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March 15, 2016

Preparing Your Sales Force for the Modern B2B Buyer: 5 Key Takeaways

Last week, I traveled to St. Petersburg, Florida for the MFEA Joint Distribution & Digital Summit, a gathering of investment professionals examining strategies, best practices and technology tools being utilized to manage a sales force.

At the event, I gave a talk on “Preparing Your Sales Force for the Modern B2B Buyer,” which explored the implications for the distribution of financial products and how firms can use technology to adapt to this new age of buyers.  Here are the five key takeaways from my presentation to consider as you evaluate your own sales force:

  1. Millennials comprise the majority of the workforce. In 2015, millennials surpassed baby boomers and Gen X’ers in the workplace for the first time.  According to Pew Research Center, 10,000 baby boomers are expected to turn 65 (the average retirement age) every day until 2030.  What this means for you is that your most seasoned sales reps will retire, taking years of knowledge and best practices with them.  It’s critical that you preserve this information for the next generations of sales reps and be mindful that the way you train your new sales reps may need to be reevaluated as well.  Millennials have grown up relying on mobile devices and video as central components to the way they live and learn.  Training them in the workforce should mirror the way they prefer to learn.
  1. Buyers’ demands have changed. Today’s modern buyer expects a sales rep to fully understand their business and pain points.  A Forrester report, “What Do Executive Buyers Find Valuable?” asked buyers to rate what they found most valuable in conversations with sales reps. The top three answers were: the salesperson clearly understands my business issues and can clearly articulate how to solve them, the meeting helps me think about how to solve a business problem, and the salesperson shares insights with me that I did not consider before.  Furthermore, a recent DST Kasina report, A Modernized Sales Team, stated, “As the demands of the client-financial advisors continue to rapidly change, the sales force must modernize in response.  Some of this can be done with data analytics, some by refining roles, some by aligning compensation to firm goals – all of it by a willingness to break from business as usual.”  Buyers expect new and improved salespeople to help them find solutions to their increasingly complex needs.  Making sure sales reps understand issues and trends specific to their buyers’ industry is as important as in-depth product knowledge.
  1. Traditional sales training as we know it is broken. How you prepare your sales force today will largely impact their success in the future.  We often fall into the trap of thinking we can hold an annual sales meeting and cram all of the information our sales teams will need for the coming year into one or two all-day sessions.  However, it is estimated that 84% of sales training content is forgotten after 90 days.  Modern sales organizations take a just-in-time approach to learning, making sure relevant information is made available to sales reps at the time they need it most, i.e. at deal time, when they’re most motivated to learn.  Additionally, supporting training with in-field coaching and reinforcement greatly increases ROI on training.  The impact of sales team training cannot be underestimated.  DST Kasina’s Advisor Insights survey found two firms, which described their training programs as “psychotic,” also received some of the highest wholesaler affinity ratings.  They went on to explain, “Sales organizations with a strong training culture are those most effective at building trust, credibility, and respect with advisors – and ultimately a committed long-term relationship.”
  1. Collaboration is key. Allego’s 2016 State of Sales Enablement and Training survey found that 74% of sales professionals say collaboration with peers has been an effective way to gain sales success.  Also, 57% agree they would like their sales enablement training to be more collaborative.  DST Kasina’s Advisor Insights supports this finding for asset management firms, stating, “External sales persons could historically build and manage a territory with basic support from an internal sales representative.  Increasing intermediary complexity and sophistication have made the lone wolf approach nearly an impossible endeavor.  Many asset management organizations are seeing merits to including specialized roles in the sales process, including sales oriented PM proxies and portfolio construction analysts as well as more internal and hybrid support on a territory to territory basis.”
  1. Video improves sales enablement and training at a fraction of the cost. Having a tool that allows managers to coach reps on specific deals and enhances collaboration between and among teams using video can dramatically reduce the cost of in-field coaching and training by eliminating travel costs while improving sales performance.  Examples of what good looks like from top performers and key insights from the field can be uploaded to a video learning platform that individual reps can access on their mobile devices whenever they need to, so sales teams can easily collaborate with one another to improve their skills and their pitches.

All in all, times are changing and sales teams need to be prepared for it.  This year’s MFEA Joint Distribution & Digital Summit highlighted an industry that is experiencing tremendous changes, but is well positioned to adapt and provide buyers what they demand.

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