Successful entrepreneurs know that their reputations are their most valuable assets. But the digital age of seemingly endless social interaction has made protecting this reputation even more challenging than before — just as quickly as a business can be put on a pedestal, it can also be taken down. The key is for entrepreneurs to think about their reputations right from the start and keep taking steps to protect their images as their businesses grow. These steps include not only using social media to build a fan base, but addressing any online criticisms in real time to keep those comments from leaving a lasting mark on the company’s reputation.
Some entrepreneurs are able to project a favourable image simply based on their credentials. Heritage Link Brands CEO Cuffe has an MBA from Harvard Business School — yet she does not rest on this laurel. She continues to learn all she can about the wines she imports from South Africa, and when she cannot answer a question she finds an expert who can. Other entrepreneurs need to work a little harder to gain stakeholders’ trust. Youth, inexperience in a field, or an unfamiliar business concept are all factors that could work against an entrepreneur, but these obstacles can be overcome.
The primary question stakeholders have is whether an entrepreneur can deliver. The first step to convince stakeholders that the answer is “yes” is to project confidence. The next step is to decide how much to reveal about a new venture. US Computer Group founder Steve Davies had an arrangement with another company to get the spare parts he needed to take on a contract, so he decided not to say that he did not actually have those spare parts in his office yet. The gamble worked. Joe Corcoran, on the other hand, was upfront about the audience-participation challenges of his showTony and Tina’s Wedding — and his confidence won over investors.
Gaining trust and protecting a company’s image are important strategies for building lasting relationships that will help a venture succeed. In order to maintain positive relationships, entrepreneurs should also:
*Demonstrate that they care about the stakeholders’ success.
*Assist where needed when building relationships because the favor may be returned.
*Hone the staff’s core competencies and know how to fill in any gaps.
*Cultivate a reputation as a leader to help both the company and its employees grow.
Some entrepreneurs seem to catch all the breaks, making A-list contacts and winning lucrative contracts. While it may just seem that they are incredibly lucky, they most likely did a great deal of groundwork to ensure that they would be in the right place when the right opportunity came along. Entrepreneurs can also make their own luck by getting out of the familiar and opening themselves up to new spheres of opportunity. Record executive and music producer Evan Lamberg pursued a degree in music and business at New York University, placing him in a major center of the music universe. He started knocking on doors, landing internships, and eventually finding success in the music industry.
Perseverance is another key to enhancing entrepreneurs’ luck. Basso went knocking on doors in Long Beach, New York, ignoring the “No Solicitor” signs in the windows. At a security company, Basso tried to deliver his entire spiel before Rose — the tough woman working the front desk — could throw him out. When he asked Rose if she was sure the owner would not see him, Basso heard the owner call from behind her, “Let him in.” Not only did Basso sign him as a client, but the owner eventually became his investor and business partner.
Another way for entrepreneurs to increase their luck is to keep themselves in the spotlight. Fashion designer Ari Fish followed up on an invitation to apply to be a Project Runway contestant. While she was voted off the show early in the season, she went on to win cash-prize competitions and kept her name in the media for her avant-garde designs.
To give their luck an extra boost, entrepreneurs should also:
*Make sure they are in an industry that makes them happy so they stay inspired.
*Go beyond the extra mile to stay miles ahead of the competition.
*Network at awards galas to make A-list contacts, and be where industry stars gather.
*Figure out how to one-up competitors wherever they are dropping the ball.
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With the speech completed, it is time to take questions. This should be a five-step process:
- Listen to the entire question.
- Repeat the entire question.
- Pause. Many presenters tend to answer easy questions too quickly, revealing their struggle with difficult questions when they are forced to search for an answer.
- Answer the question. If the speaker does not know the answer, he or she should say so openly.
- Bridge to the next question. The speaker bridges by asking the questioner if he or she is satisfied.
If there are no questions, the speaker can get things rolling by saying, “Many people have asked me… .” If a question is clearly hostile, the presenter can rephrase it in more neutral language. Stalling, useful in any case to give time to craft an answer, is especially useful when trying to disarm a verbal attack.
INFLUENCING FOR CONFIDENCE AT WORK
How people interact with others at work can provide the basis for growing confidence. Influencing people to get buy-in for ideas or positions is an important element at work and in networking. The ability to influence others can boost people’s confidence at work.
Taylor uncovered her principles on influencing by studying scammers (sometimes called “confidence artists”) who use their ability to influence others for nefarious purposes. Many of the principles scammers use can help people succeed in their careers, including:
*Likeability. People are more open to influence from people they like. To be likeable, people need to show interest in others, smile, nod, and make eye contact.
*Similarity. People are influenced by those with whom they feel they have things in common. To find areas of similarity with others, Taylor recommends asking questions that fall into one of four categories: family, occupation, recreation, and education.
*Understanding knee-jerk thinking. Knee-jerk thinking takes advantage of the sort of automatic thinking many people grew up with, such as the belief that expensive things are always better. To influence using this method, people need to use the language they know will bring the knee-jerk reactions they want.
*Knowing how to use rewards. People want rewards–including compliments, positive feedback, and material possessions. Providing rewards to others increases people’s ability to influence.
*Understanding reciprocity. When people receive something they view as a gift, even a small sample of cheese at a shop, they feel they have to give something in return. In the professional world, the item could be as small as a contact or favor.
*Perseverance. In an effort to influence others, individuals should be prepared with five different strategies to overcome those who shoot down their arguments.
*Enthusiasm. If people are not enthusiastic about themselves, their ideas, and their abilities, no one else will be either.
There are two activities that define individual learning styles: perceiving and processing. Perceiving, the first activity, can occur through sensing/feeling, or by thinking/judging about an experience. Sensing/feeling relates to the actual experience as it occurs (i.e. when faced with an orange, a “senser” will experience the act of feeling and eating the orange to understand it), whereas thinking/judging learners dive first into the information about the experience (i.e. first reading all possible articles about the orange as a fruit). There is a large difference between a sensing learner and a thinking learner.
Processing, the second activity, is defined by watching and by doing. After perceiving, the experience must be processed. A watcher will stand back, fully process the information, and consider what the next step should be. A doer, on the other hands, will spring into action immediately. These twostyles of learning are very different. A watcher will be content to sit back and learn as much information as possible before offering a reaction, while a doer will become bored as soon as they grasp the general concept.
The 4MAT Model
When a preference for sensing or judging is combined with a preference for watching or doing, four distinct preference combinations are produced. The authors used these four Learning Style combinations to create the basis for the 4MAT Model:
1. Type One: Imaginative Learners. These learners seek meaning, wish to be personally involved, learn by listening and sharing ideas, are interested in people and cultures, thrive on social interaction, and are innovative people.
2. Type Two: Analytic Learners. These learners seek facts, want to know what the experts think, learn by thinking through ideas, are data collectors, re-examine facts, benefit from formal learning, and want intellectual recognition.
3. Type Three: Common Sense Learners. These learners seek usability, want to know how things work, learn by testing theories, utilize factual data to build concepts, crave hands-on experience, and strive to find out how things will help them in “real life.”
4. Type Four: Dynamic Learners. These learners seek all possibilities, learn by trial and error, adapt to change easily, excel in situations that call for flexibility, take risks, and respond quickly when testing out theories or experiences.
An effective trainer is able to satisfy the needs of all types of learners, and can find ways to incorporate certain tools or techniques to engage each type of learning style. Each learning type contains a core question that further defines the person’s approach toward learning. Both learners and trainers can benefit from knowing what question each learner asks:
* Type One: Why?
* Type Two: What?
* Type Three: How?
* Type Four: If?
Lastly, it may be possible for a person to be a combination of more than one learner style. In these situations, the authors’ suggest pinpointing what elements of each learner type is most dominant. The most natural learning style will be the most dominant element that a person experiences.
The authors stress that while each type of learner possesses a certain set of strengths, there is not a “correct learner.” Each person’s specificlearning style is a natural strength, especially when engaging or training other learners in the same style. The key, however, to becoming an effective engager of all learning styles is to be able to recognize the different learners, and create specific techniques that cater to each person’s strengths.
THE LEARNING CYCLE
The learning cycle moves through four distinct stages of the learning process, each with a unique focus or question. In order to better understand how learning style can affect training, it is important to review the four parts of the learning process, which explains how learning occurs:
1. Engage–Experience, feel, and connect to our lives.
2. Share–Reflect deeply, and consider what experts have to share.
3. Practice–Take action based on new understanding.
4. Perform–Refine learning to make it personal, and generate results.
For each stage, the authors connect which learning style‘s core question corresponds with which part of the learning process:
* Engage–Type One Learners ask “Why?” Questions include: Why is this important? Why should I pay attention to this? Why will I need to address this in my work?
* Share–Type Two Learners ask “What?” Questions include: What do the experts think about this? What does the information show? What data exists that supports this theory?
* Practice–Type Three Learners ask “How?” Questions include: How does this work? How can I use this in my job? How will incorporating this benefit my life?
* Perform–Type Four Learners ask “If?” Questions include: What if this is really possible? What if I did this differently? If I did this, what might happen?
Type one and two learners will take longer to engage in training, as they tend to consider the reason for learning before reacting to the learning that is taking place. Type three and four will move much quicker into action, and will have the ability to overshadow type one and two learners with theirlearning reaction. When facilitating learning with an activity, the authors note that it is important to move quickly to engage type three and four learners in order to keep their interest. However, type one and two will need more time to reflect on the activity at hand, so it is helpful to give them extra time without penalty.
As a trainer, the learning process and its corresponding questions (Why, What, How, If) provide the foundation for any training design. The questions can then be inverted, and placed upon the trainer’s preparations for the classroom:
* Why do my learners need to know this?
* What is it that I am teaching them?
* How will they use it in their lives?
* If I am successful, what will they become as a result?
When the 4MAT model and four step learning process are flipped to create a training plan and design, it becomes possible to transform the learningexperience. The trick to engaging all different learning types during this process is to move back and forth between sensing and thinking, and watching and doing. By drawing upon the basic elements that comprise each learning type, a trainer effectively keeps all learners interested through all four parts of the learning process.
THE 4MAT MODEL IN THE CLASSROOM
From the training standpoint, the 4MAT model will force trainers to adapt to learning that does not correspond to their own learning type. This is when a trainer must “stretch” as a leader in the classroom, by adapting to other learner types that are foreign to their own. The authors offer the following examples for such stretching situations:
* If a trainer is a Type One learner, it will be easy to understand the need to personalize the value of the material. However, it will be difficult to move to the more practical application of the material that appeals to Type Three and Four learners. In this case, a trainer must stretch by speeding up the lesson to incorporate both.
* If a trainer is a Type Two learner, it will feel comfortable to analyze material and discuss as a group. When learners begin to spiral off into their individualized adaptation of the material, it may seem that the group is spinning out of the trainer’s control. A trainer must stretch to move past anxiety, and allow the group to take ownership of the material.
* If a trainer is a Type Three learner, it will be difficult to begin the learning process with engagement. The natural desire to take action and get the material into an activity will try to take over, but a trainer must stretch to ensure that learners are personally invested in the material before moving to action.
* If a trainer is a Type Four learner, it will feel natural to hand over the learning to the classroom early, so as to maximize the time for learners to explore possibilities. However, a trainer must stretch in this situation, and make sure to offer the proper structure for learners to grasp the concepts first.
Your Style and Your Training
Stretching to adapt to other learner styles is an essential component in any successful training environment. In order to do so effectively, it is important to analyze the strengths and the weaknesses of each type of learner as a trainer, and be able to feel confident in the ability to lead, train, and stretch as best as possible in every situation. The authors offer an overview of each learner style as a trainer in each step of the learningprocess:
Type One Learners as Trainers:
* Engage. Type One trainers excel in engaging their classroom or audience, and are able to have people connect to the opening dialogue about the material.
* Share. Type One trainers are adept at commanding the material, and staying on track. Talking and explaining is another strong point for type one trainers.
* Practice. Type One trainers are good at organizing workshops or practice sessions. However, they need to ensure that the workshops or practice transfers to understanding.
* Perform. Type One trainers are good with people, but this last stage of the learning process can cause anxiety. Things tend to move too quickly at this stage, and trainers here can get overwhelmed. It is important to remain on top of things.
Type Two Learners as Trainers:
* Engage. Type Two trainers are great storytellers, but this can be disadvantageous in the opening stage of the learning cycle. Creating an open dialogue instead of a storytelling atmosphere will be greatly beneficial.
* Share. Type Two trainers excel in the sharing stage of learning. The authors recommends creating an interactive atmosphere for sharing to take place, so that the learners are sufficiently involved in the Type Two trainer’s understanding of the material.
* Practice. Type Two trainers love to share and explore details, so this stage will work well for them. However, it is important to not get stuck in this stage as the last stage of the learning cycle.
* Perform. Type Two trainers are helpful when people need to adapt, but can pull back from the originality of learners in this final stage.
Type Three Learners as Trainers:
* Engage. Type Three trainers shy away from group learning, so this first stage will be difficult as a trainer. It can be helpful to have learners share their perceptions of the material in this first stage, in order to get everyone comfortable, and make lecturing flow.
* Share. Type Three trainers are not usually fond of lecturing, so in this stage it may be helpful to slow down, and write down a few key concepts to share with the classroom.
* Practice. Type Three trainers are patient and down to earth, so this stage will be the most natural. It is easy for type three trainers to break down material into small pieces, and make it accessible for learners in tasks.
* Perform. Type Three trainers are able to close out the learning cycle strong in this stage, with the ability to offer accessible strategies for learners to use in their own life. They should be careful not to discourage creativity for more “by the book” learning.
Type Four Learners as Trainers:
* Engage. Type Four trainers do not excel in the opening stage of learning, because they are too interested in how people perceive things. It will be most beneficial for these trainers to slow down, and allow participants enough time to become engaged with the material.
* Share. Type Four trainers know the background behind their material quite well, but they need to be careful not to breeze past this stage of thelearning cycle. It will be helpful to slow down, and let the participants share their thoughts about the material.
* Practice. Type Four trainers are fast as learners, so they are usually used to doing things their own way. Here, type four trainers will need to make sure that learners have all the help or resources they need to complete the practice stage.
* Perform. Type Four trainers strongly excel in the perform stage. They are able to create innovative projects, and inspire their audience into action.
GREAT TRAINING DESIGN: THE STEPS OF THE LEARNING CYCLE
The 4MAT Model identifies four types of individual learning styles, and guides these learners through the learning cycle. Taken in short, it is an easily applicable system that anyone can use. When analyzed closer, the 4MAT model is quite sophisticated. The authors based the model on the latest advances in neurological research, specifically in the findings between the left and the right mode of the brain:
* Left Mode–“Analysis”: The separation of a whole into its parts, or an examination of something complex into smaller, more understandable pieces. Operates in an investigative process, using language, experience, and numbers.
* Right Mode–“Synthesis”: The combination of elements to form a whole, large picture. Operates in a metaphorical process, using images, and patterns.
According to the authors, learners swing back and forth between analysis and synthesis throughout the learning process. In each of the aforementioned learning cycle stages–engage, share, practice, perform–is a two-step swing between the left mode, analysis, and the right mode, synthesis. The authors offer the following 8-step breakdown the learning cycle, with its corresponding swing step between analysis and synthesis:
- Engage: Connect–Create an experience (synthesize).
- Engage: Attend–Analyze an experience (analyze).
- Share: Image–Visualize a connection (synthesize).
- Share: Inform–Learn the expert knowledge (analyze).
- Practice: Practice–Hands-on interaction/learning with the material (analyze).
- Practice: Extend–Adapt to real-life, personal experiences (synthesize).
- Perform: Refine–Evaluate and take ownership of new material (analyze).
- Perform: Perform–Learners integrate knowledge into their own lives (synthesize).
During engage, a student swings back and forth between receiving information, and connecting to the information. During share, a student swings between listening to the information, and visualizing the information in personal experiences. During practice, a student tests out their new knowledge, while relating ways that the new knowledge will benefit their lives. During perform, a student swings between ownership of the new knowledge, and attempting to create an original version of the new knowledge in reference to their own lives.
THE 4MAT MODEL LESSON PLAN
There are four steps that should be followed when creating a lesson plan based on the 4MAT Model of learning:
1. Define the learner outcome. It is important to be clear about the specific knowledge and/or skills that a trainer wants a learner to master. The authors recommend asking the following questions to thoroughly define the anticipated results: What will the learner be able to do better? What new skills will the learner acquire? How will the learner be able to demonstrate what they learn?
2. Mindmap the content. It helps to envision the course content/material thoroughly, and with as much detail as possible. The authors suggest that a trainer’s mindmap should capture the “essence of the content,” the details that support the main ideas, and the relationships among them.
3. Determine the concept. Here, it is imperative that a trainer locates a central idea that will link the information/material to the learner’s lives. The authors recommend that trainers consider the learners, their backgrounds, the culture of the workplace or classroom, and what is going on around the world to find one “big idea.”
4. Complete the wheel. In the last part of the lesson plan, the trainer should go through the entire learning cycle, using the following steps: plan all necessary activities (lectures, maps, PowerPoint presentations), develop practice activities (worksheets, role-play), determine how learners will make personal connections to the material, consider how to help them connect emotionally/personally (storytelling, small group discussion), decide how the learners will process their personal insights, provide opportunities for learners to share their connections (portfolios, small presentations), develop an assessment tool for learners to test their knowledge (pop-quizzes, essays), and refine how the learners will ultimately reflect on the material when contrasting it with their own lives (group sharing of portfolio, essay, or group final comment sessions).
In the first two phases of the learning cycle, engage and share, a learner is the receiver of information. In the last two phases, practice and perform, a learner becomes the producer of the information, and practices their new abilities. The power shifts from the trainer to the learner.
In most cases, the learning outcome should be immediate, and the learner should take ownership of the material as soon as it is time to practice and perform. However, there can sometimes be a “performance gap,” and the learner is not able to immediately take ownership of the new material. In these cases, a trainer should perform a gap analysis, to determine the gap between current knowledge level, and the desired knowledge level. A trainer can ask the following questions to define a performance gap:
* Are there gaps between the learner’s current skill levels and the required skill levels?
* What will the learners need to fully understand?
* What do the learners need to be able to do better?
* How will the learners be able to track their own progress?
EVALUATING YOUR RESULTS
Training evaluation can be measured in two ways: effectiveness, and efficiency.
Effectiveness relates to how well something works or performs. A trainer can measure results easily by contrasting the actual learning performance with the desired learning performance. It is important to have clear definitions of desired performance before the training.
Efficiency is concerned with the use of resources. As options for training continue to grow (e-learning, online classrooms), it becomes important for trainers to utilize the best use of resources to connect with their students. The more relevant their resources (online class forums, class PowerPoint presentations, a community blog), the more efficient their training will be in the minds of their students.
The authors note that there are always variables that trainers have no control over in learning situations, such as stressful workplaces, overcrowded classrooms, or a limited timeframe to deliver the material. The best they can do is attempt to create and deliver a powerful learning experience.
IMPROVING DELIVERY USING THE 4MAT MODEL
If a trainer sustains a high level of energy, they will be able to deliver an effective learning experience for learners. Using the four phases of thelearning cycle, the authors offer several ideas for keeping energy high in a training environment:
* Engage. Ask questions, allow for reflection, create a safe space for students, share experiences, move around the room to speak to students in their space–as opposed to standing in the front of the room only.
* Share. Divide the students into groups to discuss the material, encourage questions, validate all experiences with the material, and let people move around the room.
* Practice. Rearrange groups for new dialogue, create options to work solo or in groups for high rates of understanding, be accessible, check with the students to make sure they understand, and support the learning by being available to all students at all times.
* Perform. Change venues/locations for the learning, encourage learners to share their learning or observations, allow learners to assess other’s work, and ask for overall feedback from learners.
The best way to keep energy high in a training environment is to ask questions as much as possible. It is best to prepare a set of questions before training, so as to be as clear as possible. When a trainer asks the right questions
In many industries, it is a given that salespeople need business consultant skills to be effective. However, little has been done to try to define the level of consultant skills required. Some consider strategic-level discovery skills the definition of consultant skill. For others, understanding core operational strategy is required, and for others, the ability to conduct an executive-level sales call is the heart of being a consultative salesperson.
A study undertaken by Wilson Learning was an attempt to define different levels of sales and consultant skills and determine the relative business impact of providing these skills to salespeople. Salespeople in a large telecommunications company were divided into three groups; some received only basic sales training, some received initial consulting skills training, and the final group received advanced consulting skills training. The results showed that:
- Salespeople with the initial consulting skills achieved a 22% higher sales quota than did salespeople with only basic sales skills.
- Salespeople with advanced consulting skills were 21% higher than the initial consulting skills group, and over 49% higher than the salespeople with only basic sales skills.
The results provide strong support for the value of different levels of business consulting skills and the ability of an effective training process to transfer learning to job performance. By knowing their customers as a business and by understanding their customers’ success factors and processes, salespeople can position their offering in a way that links to their customers’ vision and strategy and, as a result, sell more.
Business Consulting Skills
A quick look at the literature on sales training shows many definitions for the term “consultant skills.” For some, being a consultant means having the ability to uncover the customer’s needs and expectations before presenting a solution, rather than just presenting features and benefits in hopes that the customer will respond. For others, sales consultant skills mean that salespeople have an in-depth knowledge of business processes and can hold their own in strategic discussions with CEOs and CFOs.
Such was the dilemma of a large telecommunications organization. They sold voice and data telecommunications services to other large organizations—a highly complex product in a highly competitive market. Their salespeople needed consultant skills, but having the right level of skills was critical to their success. Therefore, Wilson Learning partnered with this organization to study the relative impact of three levels of consultant skills on sales performance.
Levels of Consultant Skills
For the purpose of the study, we defined levels of sales/consultant skills and provided different groups of salespeople with training for each of the levels:
|Basic Sales Skills||These salespeople received sales skill training focused on questioning and listening skills for identifying customer needs, but not specific consultant skills.|
|Level 1 Consultant Skills||These salespeople received training on the above skills plus specialized skills associated with managing the consultative process:
|Level 2 Consultant Skills||These salespeople received the Basic Sales Skills and Level 1 Consultant Skills training above, plus received specialized advanced consulting skills training:
As a result, we had three groups of salespeople, two with differing levels of consulting skills. We expected that, because of the complexity of the company’s products and the strategic nature of the business relationship with their clients, the Level 1 consulting skills would benefit the salespeople, but that Level 2 skills were really required for high performance. Therefore, our expectation was that the group with Level 1 Consultant Skills would perform better than those with Basic Sales Skills, and that the salespeople with Level 2 Consultant Skills would perform the best of the three groups.
In total, 128 salespeople in a large telecommunications company took part in this study—approximately 40 salespeople in each of the three groups above. All of the salespeople represented the same types of products and called on the same types of customers. In addition, these groups were matched on a variety of performance characteristics prior to training to ensure that any differences after training could be attributed to their differing consulting skills, not to other factors.
The Performance Measurement
To prove the impact of consulting skills on the company, a strategically important performance measure was needed—not just a change in perception or attitude, but a real bottom-line outcome. Therefore, for this study we measured the percent of the sales quota achieved. The implementation of the training coincided with the organization’s fiscal year, so each salesperson started the study at zero and measures were taken every three months (each quarter).
Improving consulting skills would not have much value if performance improved for only a few months and then diminished. Therefore, for this study we collected the performance data not just for three months following the training, but over a full 12-month period. The data was grouped by fiscal quarters and represented the following periods associated with the study.
Pre-training Baseline period
Immediate Post-training period
Short-term Post-training period
Sustained Post-training period
By measuring performance in this way we accomplished two things. First, we have a before-training baseline to ensure that all three groups of salespeople were performing at the same level. Second, we have up to nine months of data after the training. This should be enough to demonstrate that the results are sustainable over the long term.
Results of this study provide convincing evidence that the consulting skills had a significant impact on performance. The graph at right shows the percentage of quota achieved for all four quarters for the three groups of salespeople.
All three groups had similar performance during the first three months before training began, as shown by the Pre-training baseline period in the graph. Thus, the groups were about equal at the beginning, and differences after that could be largely attributed to the training.
Differences began to emerge immediately after the training. In the Immediate Post-training period, both the Level 1 and Level 2 Consultant Skills groups had achieved a greater amount of their quota than the Basic Sales Skills group. The Level 2 Consultant Skills group had achieved 11% more of their quota (43% of quota) and the Level 1 Consultant Skills group 4% more (36% of quota) than did the salespeople who were only given basic sales skills training (32% of quota).
By the third quarter, four to six months after the training, the three groups were distinctly different. The Basic Sales Skills group had achieved about 50% of their quota for the year. While year-to-year comparisons are difficult to make, this was ahead of the previous year’s performance, possibly due to the new sales skills.
In contrast, the Level 1 Consulting Skills group had achieved 63% of their quota for the year. Clearly, the Level 1 consulting skills were having a positive impact on performance, with the Level 1 Consulting Skills group outperforming the Basic Sales Skills group by over 25%. Even more impressive, the Level 2 Consulting Skills group had achieved 73% of their quota by the end of the third quarter, exceeding the Basic Sales Skills group’s performance by over 45%, and exceeding the Level 1 Consulting Skills group by over 15%.
By the fourth, and final, quarter of the study, the value and impact of consultant skills is clearly evident. The Basic Sales Skills group achieved about 86% of their initial quota. This was not uncommon for this organization, which at that time typically set initial sales quotas high relative to the previous year’s performance. Quotas were viewed more as “stretch goals” for salespeople, and 75–85% of quota achieved at the end of the year was typical.
In contrast, both consultant skills groups exceeded 100% of their initial quota. The Level 1 Consultant Skills group achieved about 105% of their initial quota, or about 22% over the performance of the Basic Sales Skills group. The Level 2 Consultant Skills group achieved 128% of their initial quota, about a 49% performance improvement over the Basic Sales Skills group and a 21% improvement over the Level 1 Consultant Skills group.
The results show that, for this organization, the Level 2 (advanced) consultant skills had the greatest and most sustained impact on sales performance. With just the Level 1 (consulting process) skills, sales performance was greater than the Basic Sales Skills group, but the level of improvement was relatively flat after the 3rd quarter (short-term post-training period).
In contrast, the advantage of the advanced consultant skills continued to grow through the final quarter of the study, relative to the performance of the Basic Sales Skills group. The advanced consultant skills group performed 34% better after the 2nd quarter, 46% better after the 3rd quarter, and 49% better after the 4th quarter. In other words, the value of the advanced consultant skills continued to grow through, and probably beyond, the end of the study.
The results suggest that the consulting process skills gave the salespeople a greater ability to discover clients’ needs at a deeper level. They were also better able to apply the consultative process to more effectively guide clients to a decision and an implementation of the solution. However, the value of these skills leveled off relatively quickly; the Level 1 salespeople lacked the advanced skills needed to understand their clients’ strategic needs and bring solutions that address their critical success factors.
In contrast, the salespeople with the advanced consultant skills had skills to analyze their clients’ underlying business objectives and bring solutions to the table that address strategic operational goals of the organization. Further, they were able to bring their analysis of the client’s strategic needs to the CEO and CFO and enhance their credibility with executives by addressing their needs and expectations. As a result, the advanced consultant skills allowed their performance to continue to accelerate throughout the entire 12-month period. In fact, the trajectory of the performance curve suggests that their performance continued to climb well beyond the 12 months of this study.
The consultant skills allowed salespeople to do a number of things that the basic sales skills did not prepare salespeople for. Consultant skills allow salespeople to establish a consultative relationship, uncover more strategic needs and expectations, develop deeper business-to-business relationships, link their product to the client’s underlying process and value chain, and more effectively conduct strategic-level discussions with senior executives. The data from this study provides strong evidence that consultant skills—and especially the more advanced consultant skills—are powerful tools for improving sales performance when addressing the complex selling environment.