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 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.


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.


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:

  1. Engage: Connect–Create an experience (synthesize).
  2. Engage: Attend–Analyze an experience (analyze).
  3. Share: Image–Visualize a connection (synthesize).
  4. Share: Inform–Learn the expert knowledge (analyze).
  5. Practice: Practice–Hands-on interaction/learning with the material (analyze).
  6. Practice: Extend–Adapt to real-life, personal experiences (synthesize).
  7. Perform: Refine–Evaluate and take ownership of new material (analyze).
  8. 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.


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?


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.


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.Prismphil2

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:

  • A structured process for establishing a consultative relationship
  • A model for probing clients on strategic issues and how to link those issues to the capabilities of their products
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:

  • Analysis of the impact of switching costs on a customer’s buying decision
  • How to analyze a customer’s value chain
  • How to determine industry and customer critical success factors
  • How to have a strategy-level discussion with senior executives

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.

The Study

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.

1st quarter

Pre-training Baseline period

2nd quarter

Immediate Post-training period

3rd quarter

Short-term Post-training period

4th quarter

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.


Percentage of Quota Achieved over Four Quarters

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.

Pre-training Baseline

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.

Immediate Post-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).

Short-term Post-training

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%.

Sustained Post-training

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.


Being an effective speaker is considered a key executive competency, but it is also something of a dying art. People are relying more and more on digital communication, and studies show that listeners’ attention spans are getting shorter. Still, speaking is a more effective mode of communication than writing because vocal intonations help clarify meaning that gets lost when a message is written, and people focus their attention on the speaker.SPEED MODEL-3

McGowan finds there is a communications gender gap in the corporate world. Women have to walk a fine line between being seen as too empathetic or nice and being seen as bossy or inflexible. Men, on the other hand, do not have to deal with the same kinds of stereotypes. Women tend to back into their messages because they like to establish support for an idea before actually explaining it. Men tend to be less empathetic, so are often not as effective at explaining how an idea might help others.

But not all communication issues are gender-based. People can be poor communicators because they focus too much on irrelevant details, make the same point over and over, rely on clichés, or continually edit what they just said, a habit called verbal backspacing. To help speakers overcome any quirks that keep them from being good communicators, McGowan recommends seven principles of persuasion:

1. The headline principle: Speakers should grab their audiences’ attention at the start.

2. The Scorsese principle: Speakers should create imagery with words to hold listeners’ attention

3. The pasta-sauce principle: Speakers should boil down their messages to make them strong and concise.

4. The no-tailgating principle: Speakers should talk slowly while thinking about what to say next.

5. The conviction principle: Speakers can show certainty with their words, tone, and eye contact.

6. The curiosity principle: Good conversationalists are interested in other people and what they have to say.

7. The Draper principle: Speakers should keep the conversation focused on their areas of strength.

To learn these principles and put them into practice, people can focus on learning and using one principle at a time. Individuals can study speakers on television to see how they display various principles, and they can evaluate their own use of the principles by reviewing recordings or videos of themselves speaking.

Maintain the Presentation Tips

  1. Ask questions every  5-10 minutes!
    1. Call on one person by name.
    2. Don’t ask the group in general
    3. When you start with one person for a question, stay with that person.  Give them feedback. 
    4. If the person you are questioning can’t answer, have them ask a classmate, not you. Make it a game!
    5. Be clear when you want everyone to follow along or participate in answering questions.


  1. It is easy to confuse learners with “nice to know versus need to know”.
    TTT Session with Leading Bankers on PRISM Philosophy
    1. There is a lot of information, but lecturing on every nice to know won’t help anyone remember it.   
    2. Participants have the capacity to store everything they experience (see, read or hear).  The real issue is whether they can access the information when they need it (recall).
    3. Stick to the key points.
  2. If “nice to know” comes up, or a topic not yet covered, add it to the flip chart. Cover it at the end, or when you are on that topic.
  3. Answer questions only on topics already covered or on key points.
  4. Translate what you are presenting to its value in a daily job. Be the learner and present “What do I have to know to get it done?” Provide context and realistic examples.
  5. Make sure the entire class is following along by walking around
    1. Slow down. Check that everyone is in the right place.
    2. If someone is not, have a teammate help them
    3. Be attentive to facial expressions. If you see looks of confusion: 
      1. Ask everyone to come up with a question to ask about the subject.
      2. Have someone else answer it. If no one knows, you answer.
      3. Have someone else do a teach-back. If they don’t think they can, have them ask a question.
      4. If you see inattentiveness and yawning:
  1. Have everyone stand up and stretch.
  2. Do one of the review activities
  3. Have participants write in a notebook. Say “Write this down” when you want them to remember a best practice.  Writing helps recall.

Creating emotion helps memory. Use stories. Set up real simulations.

Repetition is the key to learning.  Let participant’s do the task many different ways


Improving performance by learning new skills is not the only way to heighten production. Sometimes, improving performance depends upon changing the emotional atmosphere and improving employee relationships and you can learn by prism philosophy too.

When people feel connected to others, they experience less negative stress. Relationships change brain chemistry, making people less vulnerable to negativity. To foster a feeling of connection in the workplace, leaders have to set aside the right kinds and amounts of time for interacting.

More meetings build connection and unity. They should involve talking about work, behaviors, roles, and responsibilities, so people can see the different ways their experiences connect with those of others.

We should have several types of meetings with their teams:

*Daily check-in: 5-10 minutes.

*Weekly tactical: 45-90 minutes.

*Monthly strategic: 2-4 hours.

*Quarterly off-site review: 1 to 2 days.

The most important ingredient for successful meetings is having a predictable schedule and structure.

Another way leaders can set boundaries is by creating connections. Factors that neurologically build connection among co-workers include:

*A shared purpose that is clearly defined by the meeting.

*Awareness that allows everyone to operate from the same facts and realities.

*Nonverbal cues, such as turning off cell phones, that indicate a willingness to actively engage with others.

*Collaboration in an environment where people are physically and mentally present and engaged in problem-solving.

*Coherent and relevant narratives that engage the brain more fully and illustrate people’s roles in the company story as it moves forward.

*Conflict resolution that confronts those interpersonal issues that hinder high performance.

*Emotional regulation that results from connecting with others for feedback and empathy.

*Emotional reflection that focuses on the present and leads to insight and openness within the group.

*Emotional repair that occurs in a group bound by mutual trust.

*Listening that is active and intentional so that each member of the group knows and understands the others.

Affinity for Ideation

Affinity Clustering and Ideation.LATERAL THINKING

  1. Evaluative OVOC
  2. Generative OVOC
    1. Affinity Clustering
    2. Using Affinity Clustering with OVOC Data
    3. The Ideation Session

1. Evaluative OVOC

For an evaluative OVOC, it can be straightforward to integrate your findings into your next prototype iteration or develop design ideas for offering improvements. Follow the following steps:

  • Print out your prototype or current solution: If your evaluation is of a prototype, print it in large format so you can hang it on the wall of your ideation room. For websites or apps, print each screen. If it’s a business process like order-to-cash use the as-is process map instead. If it’s a physical product, print a large format picture of it.
  • Print out your Roses, Thorns and Buds: Print out the output of your debrief sessions on post-its. For a small project you can hand write them, but for larger projects, purchase printable post-its and print them as outlined in the executing OVOC section.
  • Group the Roses, Thorns and Buds on the prototype: Stick each Rose, Thorn and Bud on the prototype printout next to the section each pertain to. Overlap duplicates to give yourself more space on the wall.
  • Create a separate affinity with the system-wide Roses, Thorns and Buds: As described in the last section, you likely have a set of Roses, Thorns and Buds that aren’t specific to a particular part of the offering, but pertain to system-wide or work practice observations. Use these to create a separate small affinity (se next section for details).
  • Address design changes: Gather your design team and have them read through the system-wide affinity first. Then, address each section of the prototype or process in turn, deciding on design changes that you will make. Record each design change. Since each Rose, Thorn and Bud is uniquely numbered via the template, you can optionally track exactly which customer data points motivated each design change.

 . Generative OVOC

Like OVOC interviewing itself, there are a variety of ways to analyze the data that is produced. And like OVOC, for our implementation is PMT, we are simplifying the analysis process for standardization and ease of teaching. We will adopt the following progression of tools:

  • Affinity Clustering
  • Optionally,Personas and Experience Diagramming
  • Concept Ideation


2.1       Affinity Clustering


Affinity Clustering (or Affinity Analysis) is one of the most versatile and useful data analysis tools in the HUE toolbox. Affinity is a process to meaningfully cluster observations and insights from qualitative research and draw out common themes. The affinity diagram organizes all of the key issues and visually shows the scope of the problems and opportunities.

The original idea harks back to the Japanese quality movement of the 1960’s and 1970’s – you may hear it referred to as “KJ Analysis” after Jiro Kawakita, who first developed it. Affinity features prominently in both the Six Sigma and Lean UX movements.

A sample section from a small affinity is shown here. Each of the post-its represents data points – in your case they will be individual Roses, Buds and Thorns from your OVOCs.

Note that the individual data points are grouped together and labeled by some aspect of their meaning that is important for this team: “Organization,” “Error Handling and Prevention,” “Language,” etc.  These are the threads of meaning that emerged in this analysis – as will become clearer below, this team did not start the analysis with these groups, the groups emerged from the affinity analysis process itself.

For small affinities having fewer than about 50 data points, this kind of single-level analysis works well. For larger analyses—especially analyzing OVOC data, the affinity needs extra layers of hierarchy.

An example portion of one of these multi-level affinities is shown here, taken from a UOP project on contractor use of UOP’s Schedule A engineering package. Here, each yellow post-it came from an OVOC debrief session. Note that each data point is uniquely identified with a user number and a note number within the debrief session (e.g. “U14-9” in the middle column is the 9th note captured in the debrief from User 14’s OVOC). Your notes will look the same, except each post it will be prefaced with “Rose”, “Bud” or “Thorn.” In this affinity, the individual first-level clusters are labeled by the blue post-it text. Likewise, the blue post-its are also clustered and are labeled by the second-level pink post-its. Typically, a third level is also included in these larger affinities.

You can think of the resulting affinity as a giant upside-down tree, with the third-level labels representing the trunk, the second-level pink labels representing large thick branches, the first-level blue post-its representing the small branches, and the individual data points as the leaves. The main point of the analysis is the threads and patterns that make up the first-, second- and third-level labels. These explicitly show the issues and opportunities contained in the OVOC data you collected and how they’re tied to individual groups of direct customer observations.

Note that the label post-its are written in first person. For example, as shown here, “We use the ‘live’ aspect of Smart Plant over the life of our project” is written as if it were the users speaking to us off of the affinity. Writing the cluster labels in the voice of the customer increases the impact for your stakeholders who will use the affinity for ideation later.

Using Affinity Clustering has a number of advantages. When constructed in teams, like the debrief meeting, it is a social innovation mechanism. The process of going through the analysis in a team setting often leads to innovative insights that are a product of both immersion in the data that’s been collected and the team interaction around it.

In addition, creating the affinity is inductive reasoning process that drives systemic thinking and helps the team identify opportunities that are not obvious. The affinity diagram is created from the bottom-up, and the threads embodied in the first-, second- and third-level labels emerge as part of the analysis process. Affinity is an exercise in recognizing patterns from individual points – inductive thinking. It is not a deductive exercise in sorting individual observations into predetermined categories. Encouraging inductive thinking is a key tool for helping teams identify and explore new opportunities.

Lastly, the affinity is a powerful tool for idea creation and communication. It plays a key part in grounding your later brainstorming in the actual customer observations as described in the section on ideation. It can also be used as an easily digestible summary of your team’s observations and findings for stakeholders. Many teams hang their affinity in their work areas or conference rooms as a handy reference to go back to over the life of their project.

2.2       Using Affinity Clustering with OVOC Data

Whether you are conducting a quick, small affinity or a multi-level affinity from OVOC data, the process for constructing the affinity is similar.

Follow these steps to create the affinity:

  • Reserve a room with enough space: You’ll need a conference room-sized space with plenty of wall space. Make sure you are allowed to tape or affix paper to the walls in this room. Take into consideration the number of team members and make sure the space is large enough to accommodate.
  • Creating an affinity with more than about 250-300 notes will take more than a day, so make sure you can leave your work in progress in place overnight.
  • Print out your Roses, Thorns and Buds: Print out the output of your debrief sessions on post-its. For a small project you can hand write them, but for larger projects, purchase printable post-its and print them as outlined in the section on Executing OVOC
  • Collect materials and prepare room: Make sure you have the following materials:
    • 1 roll of 36” wide white butcher paper
    • 1 roll of blue painter’s masking tape
    • 5-10 packages of 3×3 blue post-its for first-level affinity labels
    • 3-5 packages of pink post-its for second-level affinity labels
    • 1 package of green post-its for third-level affinity labels
    • 1 box medium blue Sharpies

To prepare the room, cover the walls with the butcher paper, tacking each sheet vertically with the masking tape. Overlap the paper an inch or two but don’t tape the individual sheets together.

Build the affinity: A three-level affinity is built in three stages. First, you will get all of the notes on the wall and grouped. After all of the notes are grouped, you will write first level labels. Then, you’ll cluster these first level labels and write second and third level

Stage 1: Get the notes up and grouped


Get the team together and hand each participant three sheets of post-its. Have each team member familiarize themselves with the sheets they have.

The first part of the affinity is done out loud. Start with any random note – a team member puts it on the wall and reads it off. Then, all team members look at their post-its to identify if they have another post-it that seems to be similar. When a team member finds one, s/he reads it off and sticks it directly beneath the first one. Repeat until no other post-its seem related. Then start a new column and repeat. Do this as a team and start slowly until the team gets the hang of it – it might take 20 or 30 post-its in 5 or 6 columns or so. During this start up period, make sure you’re placing one note at a time and the team member placing it reads it aloud.

At this point, do not worry about whether the post-it is a Rose, Thorn or Bud – just group them without regard to the type of note it is. You can look at the patterns of where the different types of notes end up later.


For small single-level affinities, this “out loud” mode can continue until all of the notes are placed. In this case, after all notes are placed, you can rearrange the groups until the team is satisfied, then simply label the groups. For fewer than about 50 or 60 notes, this is probably all you need to complete the affinity.

For larger affinities, you’ll continue the grouping portion, but once the team is comfortable, switch to more of an individual approach. Notes no longer need to be read out loud, and everyone can put notes up in tandem.

Some rules and guidelines for this stage:

  • Put up post-its in groups without too much justification or rationalization. This is where the word “affinity” comes in – it’s just like when you say you have an affinity with someone. You don’t know why, you just get along. We’re doing the same thing with the post-it notes at this stage.
  • No one owns a post-it or group, and anyone can move any post-it for any reason. In this way, groups constantly form and re-form. The team’s collective understanding gets baked in this way, and the clustering becomes truly owned by the team.
  • If two team members are moving a Post-it back and forth, stop and talk about it. If moving the Post-it helps to create a new group, then move it. If not, it doesn’t matter where the post-it goes, because ultimately the labels are what capture the new understanding anyway. There is no “right” place for any one post-it.
  • Hold off labeling the columns as long as you can – as soon as labels go up, our brains move too easily into category-sorting, deductive mode. For very large affinities, if you have to write temporary labels before you get all of the labels on the wall, go ahead and do so.

Stage 2: Write first-level labels


Labels tell the story of the data in the columns – they concisely capture the distinction that ties a group of notes together. And as described above, we write them in the first person, as if the customer or end-user were speaking to us from the affinity.  The next step is to write these labels.

At this point, you should have all the post-its on the wall, some in very long columns, some in shorter ones. Start by breaking very long columns up into groups of no more than 4-6 notes. Usually the longer columns that form in the first stage have several thoughts or distinctions buried in them. Break these out first, then write labels for the resulting groups.

Here are rules and guidelines for writing labels:

  • Common practice is to use blue post-its for first level labels.
  • Write labels in the first person, as if the customer or end-user were speaking.
  • Good labels create a story relevant to design.  The affinity is created to support design thinking. So the labels should be written from that point of view. Capture issues that are important to the user and that have design significance—in other words, that change the way you think about designing your offering.
  • Good first-level labels capture the issue that ties the individual notes beneath them together with enough detail so you don’t need to read the individual notes themselves. So don’t write “About” labels, like “This is about Smart Plant.” These labels force you to read the individual notes to find out anything interesting. Instead, move the meaningful distinction up into the label itself, like “We all use Smart Plant because we think it’s the industry standard.”
  • Aim for a maximum of 4-6 data points per labeled group. Singles are allowable if they carry a very significant point that is design relevant that you don’t want lost. But try to limit these “singletons” as much as possible.

It sometimes helps teams that are new to affinity to break apart the groups and write labels in pairs, but the usual practice is to do this individually. If you notice a teammate really struggling with a part of the affinity, you can switch sections with them.

Stage 3: Second- and third-level organization and labels


The next stage is simply a repeat of the clustering-labeling process, but this time with the blue first-level labels as the things to be clustered. In practice, this is much easier than the first level labels because many clusters that are similar are already near each other on the wall.

However, there is always the possibility that similar issues have arisen in separate areas of the emerging diagram. So your first step should be to have the team read through the first-level labels looking for clusters of blue first level labels that should go together but might be far apart on the wall.

After this, write second level labels that cluster and call out distinctions in groups of blue first level labels.

And lastly, write third-level labels that group entire sections of second level issues.

Many of the rules from first-level labels apply to second- and third-level labels, with just a few differences:

  • Common practice is to use pink post-its for second-level labels, and green post-its for third-level labels.
  • Aim for no more than 8 blue first-level groups per pink second-level label, and no more than 8 pink second-level groups per green third-level label.
  • “About” labels are okay at the second and third levels, as your constituents will already have read the first level labels.

Once your affinity is completed, you can capture the entire diagram in a Microsoft Word document. The biggest manual task involved is typing in the handwritten labels – cutting and pasting the individual notes goes surprisingly quickly. Once typed in, using Outline View, Word will allow the user to expand and collapse specific labels, and also allow display of the entire affinity at either first, second or third level.

2.2.3       Personas and More Advanced Models

Personas can also be constructed from your OVOC debrief notes and the affinity. There is a separate PMT Workshop and Handbook for Personas.

You should also use your OVOC data and affinity diagram to update the Touchpoint, Stakeholder and Experience Maps you created during the Kickoff Workshop. By this point, you have likely validated many of your predictions, but likely also discovered new touchpoints, stakeholders and details about both.

There are also a set of separate Contextual Design models that can be used, but we are not recommending them for PMT at this time.


2.3       The Ideation Session

This section gives a quick overview of Ideation – the process of creating and prioritizing ideas from your collected data. It’s a quick summary; for more information, there is a separate PMT Workshop for Ideation.

There are many ways to run an Ideation session, but this section summarizes a few important best practices.

Whatever method you use for Ideation, careful planning is crucial for a successful session.

Selecting a stakeholder team:


Make sure you have the right stakeholders in the room for the session. “The right stakeholders” means several things.

First, make sure you get the right expertise. This means having the right mix of development, engineering, finance, marketing, etc. to cover the kinds of ideas you’re looking to generate in your session. This mix will be project dependent. For example, an iterative project on a website will require design, development, marketing and IT, while an order to cash project might need credit, collections, sales, customer service, etc.

You also need the right personalities. Be realistic here. Ideation requires suspension of disbelief, an ability to withhold criticism until the proper time, and thinking outside the norms of current convention. There are those in your organization who can do this, and there are those who simply cannot. You know the difference. Take this into consideration.

Finally, you need the right political mix. Again depending on the project, make sure you have decision-makers who can commit to taking the next step, and make sure you don’t exclude people who can kill forward progress with a word.

Aim for no more than 8 or so people in an Ideation session. More people means it’s usually harder to manage and less creative overall. Resist the tendency for people to just forward the meeting notification to everyone they think might be mildly interested.

These constraints can all conflict, so realize that there is no perfect mix. But it definitely pays dividends to think about your invitations ahead of time.

Preparing the Room:


You want all of your OVOC data in the room, so like in the OVOC case, make sure you have a room with enough room for the participants to move around, enough wall space to contain your data, and that you can tape things to the walls.

At minimum, hang your affinity and personas (if you have them) on the walls of the room. Optionally, you can hang your stakeholder map, touchpoint map and/or experience maps as well, but usually affinity and personas work well by themselves.

Gather the following materials for your session:

  • 1 package of 3 x 5 yellow post-its per participant
  • 1 box blue medium Sharpies
  • Sticky flags or adhesive dots
  • A flipchart with flipchart paper


“Walking” the OVOC data:


The first step in Ideation is to immerse all of the participants in the OVOC data that your team collected. Do this by “walking the wall,” giving the entire team a chance to review the affinity and personas.

We take the time to read the data before brainstorming because we want the ideas that come out of the session to be grounded in the reality of what we found. Some people will still come into your session with their own pre-conceived ideas about solution direction, but at the very least you want to sensitize participants to what was found.

Give each stakeholder a pack of 3 x 5 post-its and a Sharpie to record design ideas, insights and questions while they read the affinity and personas. Write ideas, one per post-it, and stick them to the affinity and personas next to the part of the data that spawned the idea.

It should take your stakeholders about an hour to read through your affinity and personas, but this will obviously depend on the scope and number of your OVOCs.

These are best practices for “walking the wall” and immersing the team in the collected observations:



  • Try to create ideas that address higher-level labels in the affinity. It’s relatively easy to come up with one-off ideas that can “fix” any particular Thorn, but these low-level ideas are usually not high value, breakthrough innovations. Instead, try to think more systemically and drive your design ideas to address larger issues in your collected data. The affinity supports this holistic thinking explicitly – by driving up the label hierarchy, you’re forcing yourself to be more systemic with your ideas.
  • Do your reading in silence – think of this as an “art gallery” like experience. This respects the diversity of thinking types that you may have in your group. Some people think by talking, but many more need to concentrate to weave the threads together in their minds about what they’re reading and responding to. The brainstorming step that is coming next is where we discuss – right now it’s more of an individual exercise.
  • After the wall walk, summarize your team’s impression. Have a moderator stand in front of the flipchart and have team members offer the big issues they saw in the affinity and the personas.
  • In addition to summarizing the big issues in the customer data, you may also want to remind the team about the technological and business model capabilities that you can bring to bear as well. Technologies can be business-specific (e.g. “modular equipment,” “Aclar”) or generically available (e.g. “voice interface,” “Bluetooth”). Do this immediately after the customer data summary.

Brainstorming solutions – The diverge step:


Once your team is immersed in the data, you’re ready for brainstorming. Good brainstorming is a distinct two step process – the first is to create as many ideas as possible and the second is to evaluate and prioritize these solutions and narrow them down to the best and most actionable ideas.

The easiest and most straightforward way to brainstorm is to assign a moderator to record the team’s ideas. The moderator stands in front of the flipchart and records ideas team has. Standard brainstorming rules apply here – add to others’ ideas, don’t criticize or evaluate at this point, etc.


The PMT Workshop on Ideation also sometimes makes use of two other LUMA tools, Round Robin and Creative Matrix.

Prioritizing solutions – The converge step:

The simplest and most straightforward prioritization method is multivoting – LUMA calls this Visualize the Vote.

To run multivoting, follow these steps:

  • Give each stakeholder a small number of post-it flags or dots (typically 3 but can vary)
  • Tell them to decide on the ideas they think best meet these criteria: fit with the organization’s capabilities, fit with the organization’s business model, and fit with the organization’s cultural safe zone.
  • Once everyone has decided in their heads, each person places the flags on the flipchart next to the ideas they want to vote for.
  • Tally the votes.
  • Optionally, do successive run-offs.

Importance/Difficulty Matrix:

You can also plot your ideas on a flipchart against two axes. The horizontal axis represents how large an impact the solution would have on the customer experience, and the vertical axis represents how difficult that solution is to implement.

Exploring relationships between the ideas on this landscape can help the team prioritize solutions as well as create a roadmap for which ideas to address in which order.

More detail on Round Robin, Creative Matrix and Importance/Difficulty Matrix are given in the PMT Ideation Workshop.

Sales Management

Creating effective sales managers has been a long-term problem for many organizations. Promoting highly effective salespeople to the role of sales manager seems to fail as often as it succeeds, and there is little documented evidence of sales managers’ independent contribution to organizational value.IMG_6678

This paper reports on research Wilson Learning has completed regarding the role of sales manager skills in predicting the performance of a company’s sales force. Our research shows a 29% increase in top-line performance due to the skills of sales managers, independent of the skills of their salespeople. This research was done in cooperation with five separate organizations who, like you, share a concern for the impact and effectiveness of sales managers.

Sales as a Source of Competitive Advantage?

It is an all-too-common story. A top-flight salesperson is promoted to sales manager, but the organization soon discovers that the skills and perspectives that made this person a top salesperson are not contributing to this person’s success as a sales manager and may, in fact, be preventing this person’s success.

In our experience, the failure to make this transition from effective salesperson to effective sales manager is in part due to some critical situational differences. As the following chart shows, the environment in which salespeople tend to thrive is vastly different from the environment of a sales manager.

Salespeople: Sales Managers:
Have clear, direct measures of success—revenue, quota achievement, etc. Have vague or indirect measures of success (their salespeople’s performance)
Have clearly defined work parameters—execute on the sales process Either have a vague sales manager process, or no management process at all
Have a clear understanding of how they contribute organizational value—revenue Don’t have a clear definition of how they add value for the organization independent of the value contributed by their salespeople
Have clear periodic recognition of performance—wins! Have no clear periodic performance recognition—it all tends to come at the end of the year
Hate rules and spend much of their time getting around them to serve customers Are required to enforce the rules they once hated

© Wilson Learning Worldwide Inc.

As a result, many sales managers fall back on old sales behaviors. The common practice of compensating sales managers based solely on their salespeople’s revenue contributes to this tendency. They become “Super Closers” or take a “Heroic Manager” role and start managing client relationships at the first sign of trouble. These behaviors and others can undermine the motivation and credibility of their salespeople. This not only lowers the motivation of their high-potential salespeople, but also makes it more difficult to identify and remove ineffective salespeople. In such a scenario, sales managers don’t add unique value to the organization and may actually take away from their salespeople’s own feelings of value and success, decreasing their satisfaction and connection to the organization.

So, what is the value of sales management to an organization, and how can you quantify the impact sales managers have on organizational performance? Answering these questions was the purpose of this series of studies. From our research, we have concluded that a sales manager’s ability to lead does contribute uniquely to the performance and competitiveness of his or her organization.

Proving the Impact of Sales Management Skills on Performance

Over the past several years, Wilson Learning has had the opportunity to work closely with a number of organizations to uncover the sources of competitive advantage residing in their salespeople and sales managers. We have also had the opportunity to collect sales performance data for many of these companies to analyze the impact of sales management skills. This paper reports on five of those organizations to independently show that effective sales management skills are improving these organizations’ financial performance and customer success.

Working with organizations to identify a core set of sales management skills for creating competitive advantage is one thing, but demonstrating the relationship between these skills and business performance is another. Verifying this relationship is essential if these skills are to become part of an organization’s sales strategy. Therefore, we worked in partnership with five organizations who were willing to:

  • Provide us with access to all of their sales force, or a complete division’s sales force, for this study.
  • Share performance data for each of the sales groups involved. For this study, we wanted a performance measure that could be applied relatively universally, so we utilized percent of annual quota achieved.
  • Administer surveys both within their organization and with their customers to measure customer satisfaction and sales management skills.

We previously reported on our work with these five organizations in our study, Sales as a Source of Competitive Advantage. This report looks specifically at the effects of sales manager skills, while the previous report examined the effectiveness of salespeople. Because we measured both salesperson and sales manager skills in the same study, we were able to isolate the effects of each. We have reported on them separately to make each paper more concise and specific.

These clients view our work with them as one of their own sources of strategic advantage; needless to say, we cannot identify who they are or where they operate. However, we can indicate that they all compete in one of three vertical markets: life sciences, professional services, or financial services.

Assessing Sales Management Skills

The skill requirements of first-line sales managers will vary according to an organization’s market and sales process. In our research, we have found that effective sales managers don’t fulfill one role, but play four critical roles within the organization:

  • Sales Tactician/Business Operations Management: In the role of tactician, sales managers use their business management skills to operate their sales group like a business, managing the sales group’s P/L, creating forecasts, and setting priorities.
  • Sales Strategist: In the role of strategist, sales managers set a vision for the sales group, define a solution strategy for their market, and align strategic resources in the organization to support sales strategy.
  • Contributor: In the role of contributor, sales managers use their business and product knowledge and experience to make needed decisions, and use their creativity and innovation capabilities to align the sales group on common objectives.
  • Facilitator: In the role of facilitator, sales managers use communication, negotiation, and team leadership skills to manage a group of salespeople.

For these studies, we developed a 35-item sales leadership survey that determined the sales managers’ current performance on behaviors associated with these four skill clusters. This survey was administered as a 360-degree feedback system. In other words, input into each manager’s performance was gathered from the manager’s salespeople, executive manager, peers, and the manager him- or herself. This measurement system is called the Sales Manager Navigator because it combines measurement with development planning, coaching, and a results interpretation workshop to help sales managers “navigate” their way to improved performance.

Measuring Sales Performance

For most organizations, sales performance is multi-dimensional. That is, they view several outcomes as important to overall sales performance. To show the full effect of the sales manager’s skills, we measured three critical components of sales performance:

  • Sales Revenue: Given the wide diversity of the organizations, we examined sales revenue through the percent of quota each salesperson achieved. This allowed us to compare equitably across the five organizations, where there was a wide range of product costs and average sales price.
  • Customer Satisfaction: Many organizations consider customer satisfaction to be at least as important as revenue. In previous research, our measures of customer satisfaction have predicted things like customer retention, repurchasing, and sales per year. Thus, while independent of the revenue measure, customer satisfaction was measured as an indicator of long-term sales performance.
  • Salesperson Satisfaction: One of the key jobs of sales managers is to motivate and retain their high-performance salespeople. Therefore, we included in this study a measure of employee satisfaction that in previous research has been linked to outcomes such as salesperson retention, job tenure, performance, and other measures that indicate important business outcomes.

The studies were all conducted in the same way:

  • We created a survey that measured core sales management skills. The survey consisted of 35 questions that had previously been assessed as reliable and valid measures of these skills. (More detail on the validation of all the measures is available.)
  • The surveys were distributed as a 360-degree feedback system. That is, the surveys were completed by salespeople, sales executives, and sales managers and their peers.
  • The organization provided us with each salesperson’s quota achievement from the previous 12 months.
  • We distributed a customer satisfaction survey to the organizations’ customers to create a Customer Satisfaction Index (CSI). This CSI had been previously assessed as a reliable and valid measure of customer satisfaction.
  • Salespeople were also asked to complete an employee satisfaction survey to generate an Employee Satisfaction Index (ESI). This ESI had also been previously assessed as a reliable and valid measure of employee satisfaction.

To prove the link between sales management skills and the three measures of performance, we used a technique known as multiple regression analysis. In brief, the analysis results in a percentage (referred to as R2) between 1.00 and 0.00. This number indicates what percent of sales performance can be predicted by knowing the skills of sales managers. The higher the R2, the more impact sales managers have on sales performance.


Results of this study provide convincing evidence that a sales manager’s skills are a strong predictor of all three sales performance measures. That is, managers with stronger sales leadership skills had higher revenue, greater customer satisfaction, and salespeople who were personally more satisfied.

Percent of sales performance predicted by sales management skills

We cannot show you actual performance measures, both because this was confidential information and there was wide variety across the five organizations in the revenue data, but we can show the general pattern of results from these five studies. The graph shows the percent difference in Revenue, ESI, and CSI for sales managers with high skill ratings when compared to sales managers with low skill ratings. The high-skill sales managers had 29% higher revenue performance, 47% higher employee satisfaction (ESI), and 16% higher customer satisfaction (CSI) than did sales managers with low skill ratings.

It is important to note that this relationship to revenue and customer satisfaction is independent of salesperson skills. Said another way, we statistically factored out the effects that could be attributed to differences in the skills of the salespeople. Thus, what this graph tells us is that, in addition to the effect that salesperson skills have on revenue performance (reported in a separate study), the manager’s skills can add another 29% on top of that. It is no surprise that the effect was strongest on salesperson satisfaction (ESI), because this is the characteristic most directly affected by a manager’s abilities to lead. It is also interesting that the manager’s skills have a positive influence on customer satisfaction, even though managers have little direct contact with customers.

Percent of sales performance predicted by sales skills by company
Study Group Revenue Employee
Optical Devices 64% 64% 11%
Legal Services 27% 58% 25%
Business Insurance 24% 45% 9%
Architectural Services 20% 59% 11%
Building Control Systems 11% 9% 26%
Average 29% 47% 16%

© Wilson Learning Worldwide Inc.

Differences Across Organizations

There were also interesting differences among the organizations in how much the sales manager skills predicted the sales performance measures. As the next table shows, the proportion of revenue accounted for by the sales manager skills ranged from a high of 64% to a low of 11%. Employee satisfaction ranged from 64% to 9%, and customer satisfaction from a high of 26% to a low of 9%.

Thus, the sales process, industry, and market greatly affect how much impact sales managers’ skills have on sales performance. The impact can be very great in an industry like the optical devices company, but tends to be more moderate in some of the other industries. These results show the importance of analyzing the roles and responsibilities of sales managers before providing sales management training.

What is the Cost of Poor Sales Management?

These studies demonstrate the impact that effective sales leadership skills can have on revenue performance, customer satisfaction, and employee satisfaction. The value of effective sales management is in sharp contrast to the costs of ineffective sales management. A senior sales manager in one of the companies we work with made this comment: “In my experience, the cost of a single bad District Manager promotion is in the millions!” What are the costs of making a poor manager promotion decision? Here are a few of the costs you incur when you take an effective salesperson out of the field and make him or her an ineffective sales manager:

  • Loss from transitioning the customer base: Bringing in a salesperson to handle the manager’s former accounts always results in some stalling or reduction in revenue from that account.
  • Salesperson attrition: It does not take long for salespeople to see when a sales manager will not help them in building business, and the best salespeople will move quickly to either another sales division or another company.
  • Reduced salesperson effectiveness: When managers take a heroic approach, or provide limited guidance, the remaining salespeople are de-motivated and their performance drops.
  • Loss of good will in the marketplace: As salespeople leave and customers begin dealing with a string of temporary salespeople, they lose faith in the vendor.
  • Harder to hire: Replacing salespeople who leave becomes harder and more expensive as the reputation of that sales manager gets more widely known.

This study shows that effective first-line sales managers have a direct, and independent, impact on revenue. Also, because effective sales leadership leads to more satisfied salespeople and customers, this impact is sustained over the long term. The differences among the organizations studied further points out the necessity of analyzing the role of sales managers prior to implementing training and development. While the desired outcomes of effective sales management are clear, the specific “hats” that sales managers are expected to wear differ greatly from organization to organization. You need to first carefully consider your expectations of your sales managers and the skills and competencies required to meet these expectations.

Additional Resources

This additional article is available from Wilson Learning Worldwide:

Sales as a Source of Competitive Advantage

Business Performance, Employee Satisfaction, and Leadership Practices

Regaining and Regaining the Advantage: Advancing the Organization Through Sales and Sales Management

The Statistical Adequacy of the Sales Navigator