Steven Rosen and Colleen Stanley discuss the strategy of simultaneously setting learning and sales goals. They explore the intricate relationship between continuous learning and improving skills for sales leaders, stressing the need for a balance. They share insights on how sales leaders can manage both effectively, creating a culture of ongoing learning. The episode highlights the importance of regular coaching, the role of belief systems in prioritizing learning, and the significance of skill mastery.
“If we keep learning goals as relevant as we keep sales targets, we’ll get reps who can say that their managers helped them get better in at least one or two areas at the end of the year. Sometimes that’s all it takes to have a major impact on your performance.” – Steven Rosen
- Setting learning goals alongside sales goals is crucial for creating a learning organization and driving effective execution.
- Sales leaders should identify the skills needed to achieve sales goals and provide training and resources to develop those skills.
- Coaching plays a vital role in bridging the gap between knowledge and action, and managers should actively observe and guide sales reps’ behaviors and actions.
- Balancing sales goals and learning goals requires a focus on skill mastery and progression, ensuring that reps have the necessary skills before moving on to the next objective.
- Eliminating time-sucking activities and prioritizing training and coaching are essential for creating a continuous learning and development culture.
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[00:00:05] Steven Rosen: Hello, and welcome to another sales leadership awakening podcast edition. I’m Steven Rosen with my wonderful co-host Colleen Stanley.
[00:00:13] Steven Rosen: Hello, Colleen. Nice to see you. Always with a wonderful smile. We will discuss our key focus: bridging the gap between what we know and taking action.
[00:00:24] Steven Rosen: If we did that more often, as I think about it, we’d be much more successful. So, in today’s episode, we’re going to answer the question, do you need to set sales goals, or do you need to set learning goals?
[00:00:36] Steven Rosen: We’ll explore the relationship between the two critical sales targets, which are often undervalued: continuous learning and the focus on that, and the skill enhancement that sales leadership needs to do. Colleen, let me ask you: we all deal with this every year in terms of growing our people. In your experience, why is it important for sales leaders to set learning goals in addition to sales goals?
The Importance of Setting Learning Goals
[00:01:05] Colleen Stanley: I want to credit the book that prompted and refined this thinking – ‘The Performance Paradox’ by Eduardo Briceño. This wonderful book is what got me thinking along these lines. I’ll read a brief excerpt for our listeners. It said that ‘the strongest organizations are learning organizations. Their structures and systems prioritize the development of their people, making learning the everyday default. This approach makes them agile, resilient, and impactful.’ The book also highlights how, at one time, Microsoft, a highly successful organization, transitioned from being a ‘know-it-all’ organization to a learning organization. Now, let me return to your question, as I wanted to acknowledge and credit this resource for influencing my perspective.
[00:01:47] Colleen Stanley: As sales managers, both you and I have experience in setting sales goals and defining metrics, including activity metrics, every quarter. We often find ourselves inundated with numbers. What I want to emphasize for everyone listening today is that for every sales goal you set, there should also be a corresponding learning goal.
[00:02:06] Colleen Stanley: Let’s consider activity metrics, specifically prospecting. This includes various methods such as email outreach, LinkedIn engagement, networking, and seeking partner referrals. While we can set these leading indicators, it’s crucial to ask whether your salespeople have the skills to execute them effectively.
[00:02:18] Colleen Stanley: Usually, there’s a need for training in that area. I recall an interesting client experience from last year, and I’m sure you’ve encountered similar situations in your work. In cases where a company is experiencing growth, they initially operated with a straightforward directive: ‘Hit your sales goal, go get’em.’ However, as the company expands, the focus shifts to becoming more profitable. I observed this dynamic during a year when the company underwent significant changes.
[00:02:45] Colleen Stanley: For each salesperson, the plan was to introduce a new business development goal alongside the existing one, encompassing both landing and expansion. Additionally, there was a goal tied to a specific program. You’ve got this new accountability, and often, that’s where it would stop.
[00:03:01] Colleen Stanley: Now, to this company’s credit, they recognized that they needed to give additional training and business development. Recognizing the significance of social media in their industry, they brought in a social media expert to help their reps refine and enhance their skills in finding and retaining existing businesses. Then, they realized that many of their managers weren’t that good at territory and account planning. This raised the question of how these managers could effectively teach these skills to their salespeople.
[00:03:23] Colleen Stanley: To address this, they hired someone to provide training in territory and account planning. They’ve got to teach a new value proposition and new sales messaging. So, there was a company that established new sales, higher, and more defined goals–whatever we want to call those today. But with all of those, they weren’t leaving him like you said in the lifesaver boat. They gave the reps the resources and support. That was a fantastic example of how sales goals and learning goals can seamlessly combine to drive effective execution.
[00:03:52] Steven Rosen: I look at it from a very different perspective, and I love companies that tie their goals to, ‘Hey, this is what we’re asking our salespeople to do.,’ and now we’re going to support them in their development as a global approach.
[00:04:04] Steven Rosen: I want to share two thoughts on this area. Number one, many companies don’t start the year with sales goals. They’re three months in and still establishing territory goals and objectives. I think I never did that. I’d worked through Christmas or whatever holiday to ensure my reps had their quotas. To me, that’s a given, and many companies often say, ‘Oh, we’ll do it by the end of the first quarter.’
[00:04:29] Steven Rosen: That is just pure negligent sales leadership. Ensure you get your sales goals in place because the reps need to understand their objectives. Secondly, what I have found at a different level causes me to focus on coaching.
[00:04:46] Steven Rosen: Each rep needs coaching to get better, right? I think this is a great insight I want to take forward with folks I work with. Ensure that your goals, as you said, or your objectives, are tied to ensuring the reps can support them.
[00:05:00] Steven Rosen: One common practice that many companies, including those I’ve worked for, often adopt is using Individual Development Plans (IDPs) as part of their HR processes.
[00:05:09] Colleen Stanley: Okay, it all sounds good.
[00:05:11] Steven Rosen: It sounds good, and maybe it was just in the industry that we’ve had since we’re in healthcare.
[00:05:15] Steven Rosen: But what IDPs were is at the beginning of the year, you set your objectives with each rep, and then you set your individual development goals with each person. Now, this is an HR process, so it gets done. HR processes get done. So what would happen with those IDPs is they would sit for the first six months of the year because the process said you shall revisit six months later… and then you shall revisit 12 months later.
[00:05:40] Steven Rosen: I remember sitting down thinking we had a great sales year, and I’d say, ‘Oh, you didn’t achieve that objective, but we had a great sales year. You were too busy making sales happen.’ Those processes, IDPs, individual development plans—I don’t want to swear, but they’re full of crap. Some people may be offended, but it doesn’t work. You can’t revisit learning objectives twice a year. It’s a joke. It’s like writing a strategic plan and reviewing it once a year. Why bother?
[00:06:16] Colleen Stanley: Right.
[00:06:17] Steven Rosen: If you want to comment, please do, but I do want to go on and talk about possible ways to be better at this whole process of learning goals.
[00:06:24] Colleen Stanley: I think what you’re bringing up, and this could be some self-awareness for people–reality testing. We’re not making it a priority. Why aren’t we making it a priority? Here’s where it goes back to now. Again, I play more in the soft skills. It’s your belief system because, Steven, if you believe something’s important, you will make time for it. For example, in my personal life, I always make exercise a priority. I live here in Denver, Colorado, and at the beginning of every week, I still like to hike outside. I find out what the weather is like, and I plan my exercise outside according to that. That’s a belief system, right?
[00:07:00] Colleen Stanley: It sounds like we’re talking a good talk but if you believe it, then your default is to daily coaching, scheduling the time; it will be on your calendar. Your group sales meetings aren’t just deal reviews.
[00:07:14] Colleen Stanley: They are deal coaching. It starts with belief systems. The second one, Steven, I’ve talked about deal review versus deal coaching, metrics conversion, and the sales funnels; they are absolutely important.
[00:07:30] Colleen Stanley: But when I’ve worked with managers on this, it’s looking for the patterns. If the conversion rate isn’t there, there could be a lack of hard skills. Part of that is you’re not doing enough role-playing to see if the rep can say and do it. But the other pattern to look for is the soft skills, maybe a lack of EQ.
[00:07:50] Colleen Stanley: For example, let’s take a look at a rep on the discovery part in the sales funnel. They’re phenomenal, but then the deals get stuck at the decision phase. So, a lot of times, and this could be important, the rep doesn’t know how to navigate through an enterprise sale, user buyer, technical buyer, all those fancy terms we use.
[00:08:07] Colleen Stanley: Here’s what I found. They often know what to do; they aren’t just assertive enough to ask for meetings with the other buying influences, even though the pattern shows we only win when we talk to these three decision-makers. The rep isn’t assertive enough to ask for the meetings.
[00:08:28] Colleen Stanley: Where will you do your coaching? Yeah, on the tactical coaching, but you may have to do a lot of coaching on assertiveness and being comfortable asking for what you need. That is where the learning goals are. You can be well intended, but you don’t know where to focus your coaching on the learning, so we achieved the sales goal. That was another long answer.
[00:08:52] Steven Rosen: This is an exciting topic because if you grow your people, you grow your business. I’ve seen a direct correlation there. I started working with an organization earlier this year.
[00:09:05] Steven Rosen: I asked about many different things. How do you review performance? How do your managers coach? I asked how often they coach, and I was blown away. They said once a year for a week, they go out and coach their sales reps. I come from a very different world where my managers used to coach, and used to be out in the field half of their time.
[00:09:25] Steven Rosen: It’s just like if you had a customer and saw them once a year, you’re not going to generate much sales. I aim to help companies understand that learning is an ongoing process.
[00:09:37] Steven Rosen: You don’t just learn by sitting in a training course. You learn by doing; you learn by being coached and practicing. A very simple way that we do is to create coaching journeys, which, in essence, is an IDP, but it’s a living IDP. Let’s say it’s discovery, creating key meetings, or whatever that is for the individual.
[00:09:56] Steven Rosen: Have that as their learning objective for the year. It can only be one, two, or three things. Once you go over three, it’s too much. I implement having the manager call me a bit cuckoo about it and spend five minutes reviewing the rep’s plan every time they interact with them.
[00:10:16] Colleen Stanley: That’s called accountability. That means the rep shows up knowing that is not on the shelf. I’m going to be asked this question.
[00:10:23] Steven Rosen: Additionally, there are longer sessions, but every time they interact, they should check in and ask, ‘By the way, how’s it going with discovery?’ You asked some great questions, but they must have their plan readily available. I still have to have my binder here, always readily available for my coaching clients. It’s an old system, but the bottom line is that I know their three goals before they even remember them, as we often tend to forget our learning objectives.
[00:10:47] Steven Rosen: If we keep them relevant, as relevant as we keep sales targets, and take that same approach to learning goals that the learning goals are set, that’s the coaching component, and they circle back to them.
[00:11:00] Steven Rosen: As you said, showing they’re important and holding the sales rep accountable. Then we get reps who, at least at the end of the year, can say, ‘Hey, there’s at least one or two areas that my managers helped me get better at.’ Sometimes, that’s all it takes to impact your performance majorly.
[00:11:15] Colleen Stanley: Absolutely!
[00:11:16] Colleen Stanley: Here might be an interesting visual for our listeners today. I’ve called this baton training. Let me explain the story. I’ve told this in training more than once. Imagine I’m a brand new track coach. I show up at a college, and the old coach got fired because they’re frustrated; they have excellent athletes, yet they always end up coming in second.
[00:11:39] Colleen Stanley: Coach, observing the relay team, notices these are really fast runners. However, he identifies the weakness lies in the baton handoff. Instead of focusing on making them run more or doing anaerobic exercises, the coach solely works on improving the baton handoff.
[00:12:00] Colleen Stanley: I suspect there are probably three baton handoffs for every rep. If you look at the patterns, it lies in hard skills, soft skills, or a combination of both. To your point, don’t do more than three because if you can just improve the baton handoff, you’re winning. That’s supporting what you’re saying.
[00:12:18] Steven Rosen: Great analogy. I will take that one and put it in my bag of stories.
[00:12:21] Steven Rosen: The challenge lies in balancing the two. While setting achievement goals representing the ultimate objectives is crucial, the question is how to manage both aspects effectively. Do we need to manage them collectively or handle each one individually? How can sales leaders strike an effective balance and manage both aspects?
[00:12:41] Colleen Stanley: They use the same methodology or thinking approach that we use in funnel management. Leading indicators, lagging indicators, right? Again, what I said for every leading indicator that leads to a first exploratory call.
[00:12:58] Colleen Stanley: We’ve defined the number for the activity. Have we figured out what specific training or coaching the reps particularly need? For example, email prospecting, right? So, reps have been told for many years to create good emails.
[00:13:16] Colleen Stanley: Writing a good email is copywriting. It’s a writing skill, yet nobody was providing their reps with training on copywriting. It can be as simple as networking, so here’s my leading indicator: I want you to attend two effective networking events for your industry.
[00:13:30] Colleen Stanley: The person goes to two networking events. Well, networking takes a skill set. You’ve got to have a really quick value proposition kind of pithy. So, again. You can have the leading indicators, but put education around each one of those and see if they’ve mastered it.
[00:13:50] Colleen Stanley: I would do the same thing when you’re running through the sales pipeline funnel. Something that comes up with your IDP. Before, I was corrected, and rightfully so, by a very senior executive. I said, ‘Okay, we need to look at value props.’
[00:14:07] Colleen Stanley: He looked at me and said, ‘Colleen, at the level we’re calling on, they don’t want to hear acute value props. Seasoned reps need storytelling skills in a quick, compelling fashion.’ That was a great learning point for me.
[00:14:19] Colleen Stanley: These sellers may have needed tactical value props, but another set of sellers needed really good conversational case study story-selling skills. I think they’re lined right up with each other. It’s not either, or they’re right next to one another.
[00:14:37] Steven Rosen: You described that well at the beginning of how an organization had its three objectives and then heightened learning objectives. If these are the key things we want from you, we will train you on them. I never thought of it that way. So again, great insight.
[00:14:52] Steven Rosen: Thank you for sharing that. I look at it thinking, how do you coach it? The training is getting out there and ensuring that you’re sitting with the reps, observing their ability to take that knowledge, and put it into action. There’s even a third step here. Do we create coaching plans that outline how much time the manager spends in the field coaching the reps? This ensures that the learning goals align with our overall objectives and that we’re actively observing and guiding those behaviors or actions. It serves as a crucial bridge between knowing and doing
Balancing Sales Goals and Learning Goals
[00:15:24] Colleen Stanley: I’m curious. When you’ve had to flip sales managers’ daily routines, it’s very easy to get drawn into operations and internal meetings. What were one or two things that you did to help a manager change their daily routine to achieve this balance?
[00:15:39] Steven Rosen: That’s a great question. I shared the example with this wonderful organization and its exceptional managers. I introduced the concept of coaching as an ongoing and active process, not just once a year, but with continuous development and specific plans. They implemented this, along with a couple of other crucial practices for sales leadership, such as proper review meetings, not daily but once a month. It’s worth noting that these changes have added a lot of extra work for them.
[00:16:07] Steven Rosen: They’re committed, and I emphasize that their commitment to implementing the knowledge acquired in a training course is crucial, and we support them through coaching. On a different note, but I believe it’s important to share, we made a significant move based on consistent feedback
[00:16:21] Steven Rosen: We love what we learned and see the value. However, there’s a time crunch right now. So, as I was drinking coffee one morning, I thought about how to help them. I said, ‘Why don’t we create a task force to eliminate time suckers?’
[00:16:32] Colleen Stanley: Brilliant.
[00:16:34] Steven Rosen: So, one of the ways I approach time management is by identifying what generates revenue and what acts as a time sucker.
[00:16:40] Steven Rosen: Just before we had this call, I spoke to the person who’s in charge of the time-sucking task force.
[00:16:46] Steven Rosen: The managers identified five, which’ve not been implemented yet. I said, what’s stopping you? He promised to get them done by January 2 or 3. Sometimes we have to look at some of the time-sucking activities that are sucking away from coaching and from being out with our customers because they don’t generate revenue.
[00:17:05] Steven Rosen: As you know, I’m a firm believer in coaching and its impact on performance and growing your people, which is what we’re talking about, and ultimately going back to achieving our objectives. We asked a great question. They’re looking at easy things like implementing a better meeting cadence because a lot of time is spent in meetings. The meetings are not well run.
[00:17:26] Steven Rosen: How do you start the things you know you need to do, even if some of them involve handling minutia?
[00:17:30] Steven Rosen: The reps have found that they love what we’ve implemented, but they’re having time issues.
[00:17:35] Colleen Stanley: Yeah, and that’s a biggie because the presenting problem is not the real problem, right? They don’t like to coach, or the reps don’t like to do something, but it has nothing to do with that.
[00:17:45] Colleen Stanley: It has everything to do with having various things pulling me in different directions. Sometimes, even the head honchos might inadvertently be reinforcing time-sucking behaviors
[00:17:55] Steven Rosen: I always think coaching is soft, but the bottom line is that they’re very committed to taking the knowledge and putting it into action, and they are doing that. Their struggle is centered around what prompts them to engage in new activities.
[00:18:08] Steven Rosen: So I said, guys, it’s in your control. What is stopping you?
[00:18:11] Colleen Stanley: What the company needs to support is tied back to belief systems. If there is a genuine belief that training and coaching are instrumental in achieving sales results, there will be a concerted effort to eliminate minutia. But if there isn’t, then you’ve just got to say, ‘We don’t believe training and coaching works.’
[00:18:27] Colleen Stanley: At least say what your behavior is demonstrating. I’m all about reality testing.
[00:18:31] Steven Rosen: Don’t waste your money on training if you’re not going to implement it and unless there’s good leadership to turn it into action. That’s why I love working with this group: they’re committed to turning it into action. Anyway, this has been a fun discussion. We share some tangible things you can implement from each of our podcasts. Colleen, would you like to share one of your great insights that sales managers can walk away with today and implement?
The Role of Coaching in Skill Mastery
[00:18:56] Colleen Stanley: Here’s an additional thought. I live in Colorado, and skiing is one of the major activities here. I’ve also used this story in some of my sales management training, so let me explain. If you’re not a skier, here’s how skiing works. You usually start on the bunny slope, and you master those skills.
[00:19:11] Colleen Stanley: Then you could go to the green slope, where it’s a little steeper. Then you go to the blue slope; it’s also a little steeper, but they’re still smooth. Then you’re going to the black diamond slopes, wherein you’ll get bumps, right? Each one of those types of hills requires a progression. My encouragement with the IDPs is that you have to figure out where your rep is and then not escalate them or elevate them too quickly.
[00:19:37] Colleen Stanley: There’s a mistake that I make as a sales manager every time I was time-crunched. I might do one role-play and that equates to mastering the green slope, right? Then I’ll put my sales reps on the black diamond. Every time I do that, I’m throwing objections at them. I’m running pressure calls to see how they can emotionally react.
[00:19:52] Colleen Stanley: They hadn’t even mastered the other two levels of learning yet. If you want to be a great coach out there and create a great learning organization, do what ski instructors do quite well. Figure out where your students are and progress them. You have to know what the progression looks like.
[00:20:08] Steven Rosen: I want to add to that because one of the things that we forget because we’re all trying to do so much as sales leaders that we forget about skill mastery. At the end of the day, if we’re investing in a learning program, the goal is to master that skill before we move to the next one.
[00:20:29] Steven Rosen: I’m so aligned with that. You’ve thrown me a loop because that’s a brilliant insight, and I will try to come close to it. In terms of learning, it’s very important that each of our reps feels like they’re being developed and they are being developed.
[00:20:44] Steven Rosen: The way to do that is not HR-driven IDPs. I’m sorry if there are HR people, but that process just doesn’t work. It’s about building, whether we call it IDP, a coaching plan, one, two, or three things, and then [00:21:00] constantly implementing and developing it. It could be five minutes in a discussion. Every time you discuss how things are progressing, make it live, as that contributes to skill mastery.
[00:21:11] Steven Rosen: Make sure you put plans in place. Your quotas must be ready at the start of the year, or you’ve got to fight for them if you haven’t received the approvals internally.
[00:21:20] Steven Rosen: I’ve seen that mistake made far too many times. It’s hard to see a client doing it because they think I’m being critical, but that was my job when I ran my sales organization.
[00:21:30] Colleen Stanley: This has been a great conversation. As always, Steven. If you enjoyed what you heard today, please subscribe to our channel. Our goal is to help sales leaders out there. We often know it can be lonely at the top, so if you like this episode, forward it to a fellow sales leader. Thanks again, Stephen. It’s wonderful to connect with you on this topic.