The Silicon Review
Fifty years ago, if you went to see your doctor and told him the medical problems you had, the conversation might have gone like this. “Doc, when we were out to dinner, I started getting some tightness in my chest. Then I started feeling nauseated and dizzy. And then I suffered from heartburn and some pain in my stomach.” The doctor might have scratched his head and stroked his beard for a few minutes before rendering his diagnosis and treatment. He might have said, “It sounds like you’re just suffering from some bad food. Go home. Take some Pepto-Bismol and lie down and rest for the next couple of days. Be sure to drink plenty of fluids. We’ll see how you are in a few days.”
The doctor might have been right. But as we know today, those are also some of the early symptoms that a person might have when they are about to have a heart attack.
In today’s high-tech world, the doctor is surrounded by a lot of diagnostic equipment and tests to eliminate that guesswork and risk. There are EKG machines, x-rays, CT scans, MRIs, bloodwork, as well as a host of simpler diagnostic tools that can help, like blood pressure cuffs, electronic thermometers, and finger-tip heart rate monitors. Back 50 years ago, the doctor’s diagnosis would have been based purely on his or her experience and educated guesswork. Unfortunately, the same has been true in the world of sales training and transformation. Sales Enablement personnel team up with Sales Executives to use their best judgment to put together a training plan for their individuals and teams. It’s often a one-size-fits-all approach to training and coaching that doesn’t account for varying competency levels, which in turn can lead to sub-par results. According to Walter Rogers, the CEO of Baker Communications, Inc., those were the solutions available when the company started more than 40 years ago.
He went on to say that in the last four years, Baker has started to get more scientific in its approach to improving sales performance. “Ten years ago, we were focused on how to make the training ‘stick.’ We started introducing learning reinforcement tools and refresher video libraries to overcome the forgetting curve,” Rogers explained. “That helped the sellers a lot, but it was still a one-size-fits-all approach. We needed to make sales performance improvement more scientific and much more individualized,” he went on to explain.
“Not everyone is going to have the same selling strengths and weaknesses. Some are strong at prospecting, while others are strong at negotiation or closing. We needed to find those individual strengths and weaknesses if we’re going to help these sellers and teams become world-class players,” Rogers explained.
That’s what led Baker Communications to begin using huge data repositories to find where skill gaps were occurring across 21 seller competencies, 20 sales management competencies, and 11 sales leadership competencies. Along the way, they found out a lot of other interesting information as well. It turns out that only 1 in 7 sales reps had the coaching and managing skills to take on the job of Sales Manager. And just as surprising, 5 out of 6 Sales Managers would have failed as an individual seller. The skills required were very different.
“After 2 million plus sellers, nearly 90,000 hires, in 31,000 plus companies around the world, we can now predict with a 91% predictive validity rating whether a new hire will be successful. And even better, we can find the skill gaps that can turn an existing average performer into a top performer,” Rogers explained.
Mr. Rogers explained that when the data tells you that a hire is going to be successful, there is a 91% chance that the seller will end up in the top half of your team in a year. He also cautioned that when the data tells you not to hire – and you hire that person – 75% of those individuals will be gone in the first 6 months.
Baker Communications sees this data-driven approach to training and coaching as the “secret sauce” companies have needed for decades. They can hire the right people from the beginning. That shuts off the flow of sellers that weren’t a good fit for the type of sales role a company is trying to fill. Then knowing the team’s skill gaps, they can easily adapt the training to remedy a very specific skill gap.
When we asked Mr. Rogers about what the future holds for Baker Communications and its customers, he responded energetically. “Now that we’ve broken the code on how to do hiring and training scientifically, we’re exploring similar ideas that can help sales teams continually monitor their own training needs,” he began. We’re focusing our efforts on creating and acquiring tools that can help them at each stage of the selling process. For example, one of the areas that most teams struggle with is “value selling” and then expressing that value in ROI and financial terms to their customers. We’re now offering our clients a tool that will help them create that value analysis programmatically, and then evaluate value creation over time. The output is in the form of a dashboard, as well as a variety of executive reports, that they can include in their selling or RFP responses.
He went on to mention that Baker is especially focused on more tools for sales management. “These are the people that have the day-to-day responsibility to coach their teams,” he explained. “We’re going to launch 24, 60 to 90-minute training and coaching vignettes for them to use with their teams. We’re calling them SkillBursts.” He went on to mention that sellers don’t always practice the skills they need to develop the most. He said a good coach can now easily see those deficiencies with the assessments.
“We also know from Sales Management Association research, that a formal sales process improves revenue by 18%, provides a 65% increase in individual reps achieving their targets, and an 88% increase in companies reaching their goals,” Rogers added. To that end, Baker will be rolling out its new OUTCOME Sales Methodology, to help Sales Managers improve the effectiveness and predictability of their teams.
“We know that one-on-one coaching can increase an individual’s performance enormously. In one study by Benjamin Bloom, the famous University of Chicago researcher, it showed that people who were trained one-on-one outperformed 98% of the people that were trained in the classroom alone. That’s significant. We are now looking for ways to better empower that one-on-one coaching from sales managers, with our OUTCOME Methodology and SkillBursts I mentioned.” Rogers went on to explain that management training is a big gap in most company’s training right now. Most companies spend very little time training their sales management. He said that the whole industry tends to promote its best sellers to management positions, causing two problems. One problem is that they just lost their best salesperson, and the second is that the person they just promoted might not have any of the requisite coaching and mentoring skills to build the rest of the team. “It’s our job to provide those skills to the Sales Manager. Without helping Sales Managers improve the 20 competencies that we track, the turnover will continue to be 18 months or less at those senior levels. That’s another revenue nightmare for a company.” He said Baker has the data to analyze these positions right now and that the company has every intention of leveraging that advantage to increase sales manager effectiveness. Together, he said, Baker can help companies achieve world-class performance.
Walter Rogers, CEO