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Should 360 Feedback Surveys Feature In Sales Transformation Programmes? What The Research Tells Us.

In earlier blogs we have considered the features of successful sales training and the value that coaching can bring.  Our focus now turns to 360 feedback.

Can multi-rater feedback improve workplace performance?  The answer from academic literature is mixed and could be summarised as “yes, provided that….”.   Previous research has shown that multisource feedback can be an effective method of improving work performance in its own right (Kluger & DeNisi, 1996; Smither et al, 2003).  Many researchers agree on the potential for 360 programmes to raise self-awareness and have a positive impact on performance, but mixed empirical findings can be attributed to the “high degree of variation in design features across 360 processes” (Bracken and Rose, 2011) and the fact that often the content of the feedback is provided to the individual without a coach or facilitator to help them understand it (Lawrence, 2015).

Research shows that for 360 feedback to have a positive impact on performance it must:

  • be accepted by the individual (Alexander, 2006; Smither et al, 2005)
  • be conducted by a trained professional (e.g., McDowall and Kurz, 2008; Alexander, 2006; Latham et al, 2005)
  • involve goal setting for the participant (Latham et al, 2005; Smither et al, 2005)
  • provide “short- and long- term support for participants, as they seek to make sense of the feedback and commit to specific actions” (Lawrence, 2015)
  • “provide a comprehensive and valid measure of workplace behaviour” (McDowall and Kurz, 2008) that is linked to the purpose of the programme (Lawrence, 2015).

The latter point is particularly relevant in our experience of working with sales organisations.  Historically, many have used generic 360 surveys more geared to measuring leadership or general workplace behaviours, whereas what they should measure are the capabilities that drive improved sales performance.

The importance of the skill and diplomacy of the feedback facilitator in navigating the potential sensitivities and nuances of 360 data is highlighted by a number of authors and researchers, because it is critical that the feedback is understood and accepted by the individual in order for there to be a commitment to goals and behaviour change (Alexander, 2006; Latham et al, 2005; Lawrence, 2015).

Finally, the overall sponsorship and positioning of the 360 programme is key, as it must be based on mutual trust and buy-in that is fostered through good communication (McDowall and Kurz, 2008).

Combining 360 and coaching: turbo powering the impact on performance

 Whilst there is a lack of research specific to the field of sales, there is a growing body of evidence that shows professional coaching support following 360 feedback can be a powerful way to improve performance.

  • A large study of over 1000 senior managers examined the effects of executive coaching on 360 feedback over time. One year later, they found that managers who worked with a coach were more likely to set specific (rather than vague) goals, to solicit ideas for improvement from their superiors and had improved more than other managers in terms of 360 ratings (Smither et al, 2003).
  • Luthans and Peterson (2003) found that participants need systematic coaching along with the 360 degree feedback in order to gain self-awareness and have a positive impact on work satisfaction and organisational commitment.
  • Thach (2002) found that the combination of 360 feedback and individual coaching increases leadership effectiveness by up to 60 per cent.

In contradiction, Jones et al’s (2015) review suggests that using 360 feedback reduces the size of the positive impact of coaching. However, they acknowledge that this may be due to issues of the participants not accepting the feedback or using generic leadership surveys that have no direct relevance to their objectives. In other words, poorly designed or delivered 360 programmes will inevitably not achieve your desired aims.

McDowall and Kurz (2008) conclude that coaching and 360 feedback processes are mutually beneficial as “coaching is helpful for initiating and embedding behaviour change following the initial feedback process” and “360 feedback measures make an effective contribution to the coaching process, as differences in ratings provide both the coachee and coach with valuable information about levels of effective performance at work….”.

Key Findings:

  • Goal-setting and ongoing support for the individual enhances the impact of a 360 feedback programme
  • If you want to change sales behaviour, you need to measure sales behaviour in your 360
  • Feedback must be accepted and understood by the recipient in order for them to commit to behaviour change
  • Combining 360 feedback with ongoing coaching will turbocharge its impact

 

Bloojam are business psychologists who take an evidence-based approach to selecting and developing salespeople, leaders and sales leaders.  To learn more about our Academy approach to developing sales capability in your workforce please visit our website.

 

Alexander, D.M. (2006) How Do 360 Degree Performance Reviews Affect Employee Attitudes, Effectiveness and Performance? Seminar Research Paper Series. Paper 8. http://digitalcommons.uri.edu/lrc_paper_series/8http://digitalcommons.uri.edu/lrc_paper_series/8

Bracken, D.W. & Rose, D.S. (2011) When Does 360-Degree Feedback Create Behavior Change? And How Would We Know It When It Does? Journal of Business and Psychology 26, Article number: 183

Jones, R. J., Woods, S. A., & Guillaume, Y.R.F. (2016) The effectiveness of workplace coaching: A meta-analysis of learning and performance outcomes from coaching. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 89, 249-277.

Kluger, A.N.  & DeNisi, A. (1996) The Effects of Feedback Interventions on Performance: A Historical Review, a Meta-Analysis, and a Preliminary Feedback Intervention Theory. Psychological Bulletin, II9(2), 254-284

Latham, G.P., Almost, J., Mann, S. & Moore, C. (2005) New Developments in Performance Management. Organizational Dynamics, Vol. 34, No. 1, pp. 77–87.

Lawrence, P. (2015), “A best practice model for the effective deployment of 360° feedback”, Development and Learning in Organizations, Vol. 29 No. 6, 13-16.

Luthans, F. & Peterson, S. J. (2004) 360‐degree feedback with systematic coaching: Empirical analysis suggests a winning combination. Human Resource Management 42(3), 243-256.

McDowall, A. & Kurz, R. (2008) Effective integration of 360 degree feedback into the coaching process. The Coaching Psychologist, 4(1)

Smither, J.W., London, M. & Reilly, R.R. (2005) Does performance improve following multisource feedback? A theoretical model, meta-analysis and review of empirical findings. Personnel Psychology, 58, 33-52.

Smither, J.W., London, M., Flautt, R., Vargas, Y., Kucine, I. (2003) Can working with an executive coach improve multisource feedback ratings over time? A quasi experimental field study. Personnel Psychology 56, 1, p23-44

Thach, E C (2002) “The impact of executive coaching and 360 feedback on leadership effectiveness” Leadership & Organization Development Journal Vol. 23 No. 4, pp. 205-214.

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Is Coaching Salespeople Worth The Investment? What The Research Tells Us.

In the first blog of the series, we explored the features that make sales training succeed.  In our second blog, we look at the value in coaching (and mentoring) your sales team.

Does coaching improve performance in general? The answer is a resounding “yes”. Definitive research reviews by Theeboom et al (2013) and Jones et al (2016) have found that coaching is an effective change methodology (Grant & O’Connor, 2019).  In particular, coaching has a large impact in terms of performance improvement.  Jones et al (2015) argue that this is likely to be because coaching involves many characteristics that we already know from research will enhance performance. These are:

  • Coaches apply goal-setting
  • Goals generally feature work-based activities, promoting experiential forms of learning
  • and thereby directly encourage transfer of learning to work behaviour

Jones et al’s (2015) research overview found that it makes no difference to outcomes whether the coaching sessions are delivered face-to-face, online or by telephone.  Their findings also suggest that internal coaches can deliver stronger outcomes than external coaches. However, research also tells us that the strength and quality of the coach-coachee relationship is a key ingredient to the success of the coaching process (De Haan et al, 2016).  For example, empathy, positive regard and autonomy support are important characteristics of the relationship (Grant & O’Connor, 2019).  So, while it may be ideal for organisations to develop a culture of coaching internally, due care should be taken in terms of training managers to be effective coaches and ensuring they have the relevant skills and characteristics that support quality relationships with their coachees.

Evidence of Impact of Coaching on Sales Performance

The purpose of sales coaching is to equip salespeople with the right knowledge, skills and abilities (KSAs) to achieve role and organisation-related objectives and goals. It can be delivered by a Sales Manager or an external coach.  Similar to executive coaching, the aim is to improve performance through a series of conversations, feedback provision and activities (Badrinarayanan et al, 2015).  Mentoring on the other hand tends to not have a focus on the development of KSAs and performance per se, but is the “exchange between a senior experienced person and a less experienced, more junior protégé” with a focus on career goals (Bradford et al, 2017).

Sales coaching is an under-researched area, but Badrinarayanan et al’s (2015) overview finds that it is an effective element of training and development programmes and that “professional sales coaching plays an important role in the development of salespeople…”

Sager et al (2014) found that salespeople are more satisfied with both selling skills and product knowledge training when it is supported by role models. Furthermore, sales organisations can assist salespeople by providing role models and mentors during initial sales training. Participants are more likely to be satisfied with training if role models continuously and consistently demonstrate correct and expected selling behaviours. Bradford et al’s (2017) found that a combination of external training and on-the-job training are more related to performance enhancement than are internal training courses.  They also recommend the use of internal mentoring, especially where the mentoring relationship gives the opportunity to shadow, observe and mimic the behaviour of the more senior colleague.  These researchers suggest that developmental support from line managers is important to realise the full potential of sales coaching.

In summary, the research tells us that coaching and mentoring play very important, but distinct roles in the embedding of sales capabilities. Coaching embeds learning by setting goals that feature work-based activities and encourage learning transfer. In this relationship, the coachee benefits by taking ownership for converting the ‘theory’ of sales training into a set of clear goals, supported by a tangible set of practical actions that will embed the desired behavioural change. On the other hand, mentoring allows the mentor to reinforce the expected sales behaviours and the mentee to observe and imitate these.

Key findings:

  • Evidence that coaching can improve individual performance is strong
  • Coaching embeds learning by setting goals that feature work-based activities and encourage learning transfer
  • Quality of coaching support is critical to the success of the coaching relationship
  • Participants report increased satisfaction with sales training when it is supported by mentors who role-model the expected behaviours

Bloojam are business psychologists who take an evidence-based approach to selecting and developing salespeople, leaders and sales leaders.  See our website to learn more about our approach to developing sales capability in your workforce.

 

Badrinarayanan, V., Dixon, A., West, V.L. & Zank, G.M. (2015) Professional sales coaching: an integrative review and research agenda. European Journal of Marketing, 49, 7/8, 1087-1113.

Bradford, S.K., Rutherford, B.N. & Friend, S.B. (2017) The impact of training, mentoring and coaching on personal learning in a sales environment. International Journal of Evidence Based Coaching and Mentoring, 15, 1.

De Haan, E., Grant, A.M., Burger, YD. & Eriksson, P.O. (2016) A large-scale study of executive and workplace coaching: The relative contributions of working relationship, personality match, and self-efficacy. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 68(3), 189-207

Grant, A.M. & O’Connor S. (2019) A brief primer for those new to coaching research and evidence-based practice. The Coaching Psychologist, 15(1) 3-10

Jones, R. J., Woods, S. A., & Guillaume, Y.R.F. (2015) The effectiveness of workplace coaching: A meta-analysis of learning and performance outcomes from coaching. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 89, 249-277.

Sager, J.K., Dubinsky, A.J, Wilson, P.H. & Shao, C. (2014) Factors influencing the impact of sales training: Test of a model. International Journal of Marketing Studies, 6(1), 1.

Theeboom, T., Beersma, B. & van Vianen, A. E. M. (2013): Does coaching work? A meta-analysis on the effects of coaching on individual level outcomes in an organizational context. The Journal of Positive Psychology: Dedicated to furthering research and promoting good practice. (September 2013)

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How Can We Deliver Impact Through Sales Training? An Evidence-Based Approach To Developing B2B Sales Capability

Estimates of the size of the sales training market vary but are typically measured in billions. One estimate for the US alone put the total annual spend on formal sales training in excess of $10billion (Hair et al, 2009). If you’re a business leader thinking about undergoing a sales transformation programme consider this. Less than a third of transformations succeed as expected, with a staggering 70 percent of failures due to an organisation’s inability to adopt the required new behaviours quickly and completely (Keller and Price, 2011).

So, why does sales training so often fail to deliver the returns it promises? We set ourselves two key exam questions:

  • What are the most effective methods to embed learning and development in the workplace?
  • Can the impact of this learning and development be measured in terms of improved sales performance?

To answer these questions we carried out a comprehensive review of credible sales studies and academic behavioural research to identify the best ways to embed learning and to drive a change in sales behaviour that will deliver an increase in top line sales.

 

Sales Training Best Practice

In this first blog of the series, we explore what features of sales training make it more likely to succeed.

A meta-analysis of 144 research studies (Huang et al, 2015) found that to ensure that individuals put in maximum effort to transfer learning into their job, learning should focus on knowledge and skills. Crucially, knowledge should be tailored to the job, bite-sized and then tested on the job. It is through giving the individual opportunities to practice and to receive feedback on their efforts that will help them to turn knowledge into skills. A further meta-analysis of 117 studies by Taylor et al (2005) looked at the impact of Behaviour Modelling Training (BMT) and identified four key components:

  • Training should describe specific actions
  • It should show individuals how to use them
  • Trainees should have opportunity to practice these
  • Trainees should receive feedback on their efforts

Factors that increased the chances of an individual successfully learning a new skill included the following:

  • Rule codes- these explain what to do and why e.g. “Listen carefully and respond with empathy to reduce defensiveness” rather than simply describe the behaviour e.g. “Listen carefully”
  • Mental practice- encourage participants to imagine scenarios and role-play these before they act out new skills in real life
  • Real life practice- provide opportunities for individuals to practice, receive feedback and adapt.

To increase the chance of that new skill changing behaviour, training should incorporate the following:

  • Provide examples of both good and bad behaviours,
  • Encourage individuals to create their own real-life scenarios,
  • Encourage individuals to set goals that relate to the behaviour they have learned

Overall, BMT was found to be effective in enabling individuals to learn new knowledge and skills and had a smaller but more sustained impact on behaviour and job performance.

 

The Impact on Sales Performance

In their study Kauffeld & Lehmann-Willenbrock (2010) found that an identical sales training programme delivered in a modular or ‘spaced’ format resulted in superior implementation of the training content, self-assessed sales competence and crucially increased new customers and gross revenue performance when compared to training delivered in a single block. Spaced training delivery is defined as a number of units of training with time intervals in between as opposed to massed training where the entire training content is delivered in one tranche. The authors concluded that the results supported the theory of situated learning whereby the training was perceived to be relevant to the working environment, enabled participants to apply the learning in different situations and gave them opportunity to interact with their colleagues thereby creating an environment of support and collaboration.

In their study of 115 organisations that engaged in sales training, Roman et al (2002) found that training content was a key factor and that salespeople gain “higher performance and customer orientation when training content deals with company policy and sales techniques” whereas training that focused on product knowledge alone actually reduced salespeople’s effectiveness. The authors suggest that this is because the product training was focused on features and benefits rather than on seeking to understand the needs of the customer. Interestingly, when the sales training covered sales techniques, customer knowledge and computer knowledge, the performance of the sales force and their customer orientation increased further. In the words of the researchers “salespeople need not only to know how to make the sale, but must also understand customer needs and provide greater value by applying new technologies in order to translate their behaviours into higher sales outcome.” This is consistent with a separate study (Pollitt, 2010) whereby sales training that focused on the customer and his or her buying experience led to “additional sales that far outstripped the cost of the training.”

 

Key findings

So, if you are choosing between training providers, consider the following summary of the evidence:

  • Sales training that encompasses knowledge of the customer, the buying experience and sales techniques increases the performance of the salesforce
  • Content should be delivered in bite-sized, modular format with intervals between each module to enable theory to be put into practice
  • Participants should be encouraged to set goals that are linked to desired behaviour change
  • Participants should have the opportunity to practice what they have learned through role-play and then on the job
  • Feedback should be given after the individual has practiced so that they can learn and adapt

 

Bloojam are business psychologists who take an evidence-based approach to selecting and developing salespeople, leaders and sales leaders.  To learn more about our Academy approach to developing sales capability in your workforce take a look at our website.

 

Hair, J. F., Anderson, R. E., Mehta, R., & Babin, B. (2009). Sales management. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.

Huang, J. L., Blume, B. D., Ford, J. K., & Baldwin, T. T. (2015). A tale of two transfers: Disentangling maximum and typical transfer and their respective predictors. Journal of Business and Psychology, 30(4), 709.

Kauffeld, S. & Lehmann‐Willenbrock, N. (2010). Sales training: effects of spaced practice on training transfer. Journal of European Industrial Training, 34(1), 23-37.

Keller, S. and Price, C. (2011) Beyond Performance: How Great Organizations Build Ultimate Competitive Advantage, first edition, Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Pollitt, D. (2010). BT Business Sales dials up a customer-focused coaching culture: Program combines new technology with tailored training. Human Resource Management International Digest, 18(4), 7.

Roman, S., Ruiz, S. & Munuera, J.L. (2002) “The effects of sales training on sales force activity.” European Journal of Marketing.

Taylor, P. J., Russ-Eft, D. F., & Chan, D. W. (2005). A meta-analytic review of behavior modelling training. Journal of Applied Psychology, 90(4), 692-709.

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6 Reasons You Should Use 360 Feedback and Coaching To Create A Sales Culture

In our previous blog we looked at the 5 things needed to supercharge sales training. But sales training in isolation is doomed to fail with one estimate indicating that when it comes to transformation programmes “70 percent of failures are due to an organisation’s inability to adopt the required new behaviours quickly and completely”.

When evaluating the impact of training, many organisations will measure feedback from participants as evidence for success. Others may apply a formal measure of learning in the form of an assessment at the end of the training. But the most powerful measures of success are ‘learning transfer’- do the individuals apply what they have learned back in the real world- and what is the impact upon business performance.

So what can an organisation do beyond sales training that will directly impact upon the bottom line? Research indicates that combining 360 feedback with ongoing coaching to support training can be very powerful for the following reasons:

  • 360 feedback with individual coaching has been shown to increase leadership effectiveness by up to 60 per cent. By soliciting feedback from a number of individuals known to (and usually respected by) the participant the results are very targeted and personal in a way that sales training is not.
  • The coach is able to support the participant to understand the feedback results and to link these to actions that will change behaviour.
  • Coaching alongside training helps to embed learning and facilitates learning transfer by encouraging individuals to set work-based actions and activities. In effect, the coachee takes ownership for turning training ‘theory’ into practice.
  • In subsequent coaching sessions the coach is able to hold the coachee to account by encouraging the individual to review their actions and the effectiveness of these. ‘Live’ situations can be dissected enabling the individual to amend existing activities or to identify new actions that will enable them to handle that situation more effectively.
  • Goal-setting is found to enhance the impact of coaching. This is different from identifying specific actions. Goals are over-arching objectives that show the individual the destination that their many small activities will lead them towards. Having goal clarity is shown to enhance workplace performance.
  • Above all else, the key to successful coaching is the quality of the coach and their relationship with the coachee. Internal coaches can be effective but if training managers to be coaches it is critical that they are well trained and have the relevant skills and characteristics to support quality relationships with their coachees.

So if you want to maximise the impact of your sales training, we strongly recommend that you support any such program with 360 feedback and ongoing coaching.

 

Jim Bloomfield is a Director of Bloojam Consulting with 20 years’ experience of using business psychology to develop salespeople and leaders. He is a member of the Association of Business Psychology (ABP) and the British Psychological Society (BPS) and has successfully helped some of Britain’s best-known businesses exceed their sales goals.

 

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5 Things To Look For If You Want To Supercharge Your Sales Training

If You Want Sales Training To Impact The Bottom Line, This Is What You Need To Know

At Bloojam we have put a lot of effort into understanding the key behaviours that determine success in B2B sales roles. In fact, our research has identified 9 key capabilities that are statistically proven to be exhibited by the top sales performers, those who deliver on average nearly 25% more revenue than their peers.

Unfortunately, we’re yet to come across a business that is full of top-performing salespeople. Add to that, too much of the sales training that is out there fails to have any impact upon sales performance at all.

So what can be done to support individuals to develop their sales capability and to maximise the impact of sales training? Most importantly, is there any evidence that any of this will lead to an increase in sales? And what should you look for when commissioning sales training for your business?

It’s not cool but our approach has always been led by facts and data. We favour science over speculation and so we have undertaken a wide-ranging review of sales studies and academic behavioural research to identify the 5 key things that you should look for if you want to supercharge your sales training:

  1. Measure impact on sales- Most sales training measures what an individual has learned and whether they are applying that learning in the real world. But the key thing to measure is what impact does this have on sales. If the learning fails to lead to an increase in sales, then it is money down the drain!
  2. Train behaviours that will shift the dial- If you want to change sales behaviours, that’s great. But you need to be confident that the behaviours you seek are going to lead to increased sales. Luckily for you, we know which behaviours will do that.
  3. Encourage goal setting- Too often what is learned in training is forgotten within weeks. A common practice in coaching, goal-setting encourages individuals to commit to changing their behaviour for the long-term. The key is to ensure that these goals are linked to the sales behaviours that are proven to drive greater sales performance.
  4. Focus on the Customer- Sales training that encourages sellers to consider customer needs and their buying experience is more effective than training that prioritises the organisation’s sales process and procedures.
  5. Bite-sized modules work best- The same content delivered in a modular format provides space and time for individuals to practice, review and receive feedback on their application of the course content. This approach is shown to lead to higher sales performance than the same content delivered in a single block.

So there you have it. Five things you should look for when commissioning sales training. If you’d like to know more about how we incorporate these methods into our Acuity Sales Training Academy take a look at our website or give us a call.

Jim Bloomfield is a Director of Bloojam Consulting with 20 years’ experience of using business psychology to develop salespeople and leaders. He is a member of the Association of Business Psychology (ABP) and the British Psychological Society (BPS) and has successfully helped some of Britain’s best-known businesses exceed their sales goals.

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When Only The Best Is Good Enough

We’re all far too used to settling for a team that has a one or two sales superstars, an acceptable number of patchy performers (who somehow  pull something out of the bag on the last day of the month!), and a few people who used to show potential but have slightly lost the plot and failed to shine. We’ve all worked in these teams and you might even be at risk of putting together your own version of such a team right now.

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The Upsides Of Lockdown

With businesses encouraging staff to work remotely and clients cancelling meetings, you and your sales team have a unique opportunity to focus on your own development.

Over the last few weeks I, like many of you, have found sales meetings and other face-to-face client interactions being either postponed or moved online. Initially I was concerned, and I still am, by the impact that these delays could have on my sales pipeline.

But more recently, I have found an upside. Most people will have heard the phrase ‘necessity is the mother of invention’ but who first said it? Read on to find out…

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Why customer experience matters in B2B sales and how to deliver it.

In the latest ‘State of the Connected Customer’ report from Salesforce, your B2B buyer’s needs are laid bare. 89% of buyers say the experience a company provides is as important as the products or services it provides. The salesperson’s role in providing that experience is critical and the great news is, if you can provide a quality experience, 82% of buyers say that it raises their expectations of other companies, thereby raising the bar for your competition.

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Why does sales training fail?

In short it is about motivation, not ability. I’m going to make this really personal. My first ‘real’ job was a sales role. I was attracted to a career in sales at the time because my house mate who had graduated a year before me had embarked upon his own sales career and was enjoying all the trappings of success; a flash company car, full Sky Sports package and no concerns when it came to paying for our regular Sunday evening Domino’s pizza.