To Improve the Leadership Training Experience, Think Like a Marketer

Marketers’ timeless obsession is “getting the right message to the right person, at the right time, through the right channel.” As a consumer who is bombarded by marketing messages on nearly every visible surface during every waking hour, you know intuitively that some messages resonate strongly and most are just background noise. Research backs this up: referrals consistently generate the highest conversion rates, while direct mail, email, phone, and display ads can be hundreds or thousands of times less effective (see Marketo, Marketingcharts, MarketingSherpa for details). When Carla (the happy customer) recommends a widget to Sam (the shopper), Sam is much more likely to make a purchase than if the same brand shows up in Sam’s mailbox or browser.

Why do referrals perform so strongly? Two main reasons:

  • The message is timely and relevant. Sam and Carla know enough about each other for Carla to understand what Sam’s needs are, why her experience with the widget would be meaningful to Sam, and when to bring it up so that Sam will listen and take action. This is the classic “why me, why now” message that sales and marketing experts like Jeb Blount and Mark Roberge reinforce. Perhaps even more importantly, Carla knows what Sam doesn’t need right now and doesn’t waste both of their time pushing irrelevant widgets.
  • The source is trusted and credible. Again this relies on a minimum strength of relationship between Sam and Carla such that Sam is more likely to act on Carla’s advice than another person’s. Right now, we won’t explore the psychological dynamic and value exchange going on between these two, but it’s fascinating stuff that Daniel Pink, Robert Cialdini, and the Heath brothers (among others) have written about in detail.

What does this have to do with leadership training? Let’s assume that the organization’s objective is to accelerate the leadership capabilities of their mid- and senior-level staff. This starts with the necessary and insufficient step of achieving high participation in training activities. So here’s how to map the two marketing principles above to your leadership training challenge.

Segment your leaders based on prior experience

Some training content is about compliance; this is mandatory for everyone. For the rest, each of your staff will have either high or low experience along these dimensions:

  • leadership skills: providing direction, inspiration, coaching/mentoring, etc. to a build a great team
  • management skills: prioritization and “load balancing” to enable a group of resources to complete their work on time, at high quality, and efficiently
  • navigating your company’s HR systems: understanding the processes and tools for talent planning, recruiting, performance management, compensation, etc.

By segmenting your leaders based on these attributes, you will find a better match between audience and content, which makes the message more relevant. Then, by scheduling the training events based on the events in the leaders’ lives (e.g., around hiring, performance review or promotion cycles, etc.) the message will be more timely.

Send the message from a respected, successful leader

Personal trainers who are less fit than their clients won’t stay in business for long. Yet many organizations tolerate leadership training to be run by employees who are not successful leaders, not effective training facilitators, or both. Ensure that the people in your organization who send the call to action for leadership training, and the people who deliver the training events, can “walk the talk.” These might be the senior leaders within your organization’s business lines, or from external non-competitive organizations. This ensures the message comes from a credible, trusted source.

The best marketers and the best leadership trainers have a common motivation: they are passionate about their widgets and believe their customers will be better off with the widget than without. So try thinking like a marketer to improve the outcomes of your company’s leadership training experience.

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Key Concepts: Sales EQ by Jeb Blount

Key Concepts from the book Sales EQ by Jeb Blount

51kGfoyWJJLRecently I published a Quick Take on the book Sales EQ by Jeb Blount. Below is a table listing the key concepts that Blount introduces in the book.

Many of these concepts will be familiar to readers of other books on the subjects of personal development and effective communication. What makes Sales EQ such a compelling read is the way Blount introduces these potentially complex or intimidating concepts in a concise manner, all within the context of the unique relationship between a seller and his or her stakeholders.

Concept What it means Why it matters
Emotional scripts Patterns of communication between two people in familiar situations, reinforced by subconscious signals Buyers and sellers will repeat previous experiences, even when the individuals have never met, unless the seller can disrupt the conversation by using language that forces conscious engagement instead of reflexive response
Cognitive dissonance Discomfort felt when a person’s words and actions don’t align Reversing the micro-commitments made throughout the buying process is emotionally uncomfortable
UHP ultra-high-performance Blount’s term for the successful group of sales professionals who apply the book’s techniques
Heuristics Mental shortcuts that reduce the cognitive load in decision making Buyers make irrational choices, and instead use logic in hindsight to justify their emotional decisions
Cognitive bias Thought patterns that support people’s irrational choices Understanding how patterns like hindsight bias, attribution bias, and egocentric bias work can help sellers avoid direct challenges and increase engagement with buyers
Sales Intelligence Blount’s framework to describe what enables UHPs to outperform their peers Helps sellers identify areas of personal development for themselves and their sales teams
Innate intelligence (IQ) Raw cognitive capacity (“mental horsepower”), as determined by genetics, not trainable Behavioral traits common in sellers with high IQ can also make forming relationships difficult
Acquired intelligence (AQ) Knowledge acquired through training, study, and learning experiences Whether applied to the seller’s own capabilities, the deal, or the industry, working hard to increase AQ provides a competitive advantage
Technological Intelligence (TQ) The extent to which sellers use “adopt, adapt, adept” toward new technology in their roles Remaining open to the role of technology in sales, and learning how to use it effectively will give sellers an advantage over their peers who label themselves as “not savvy”
Emotional intelligence (EQ) Adapted from Goleman’s research; Blount’s definition includes empathy, self-awareness, self-control, and sales drive Sellers will positively differentiate themselves and gain a competitive advantage when they invest in developing high EQ
Locus of control Belief as to whether a person’s success or failure in life is his/her own hands (internal) or determined by outside factors (external) Internal locus of control often enables people to achieve high EQ
Win probability Likelihood that a seller will successfully close a deal Headline metric that UHPs focus on, which motivates their behaviors when prospecting, qualifying, and developing opportunities
Dual process Balancing relationship building with sales outcomes (i.e., winning deals) Sales-specific EQ means making equal investments in these objectives
Murder boarding Objectively evaluating win probability of opportunities in a seller’s pipeline by a peer or manager By removing biases caused by overconfidence or desperation, a seller can focus on the right deals
Micro-commitments Small steps forward in a deal, demonstrated by investing time, emotion, or action A buyer’s small agreements throughout a deal create positive psychological patterns and reduce the effort to close in the final stage
Take-away Seller makes a sincere offer to stop deal discussions based on a perceived lack of buyer engagement Stops wasting effort when the buyer is truly unengaged; creates scarcity effect in a buyer who is bluffing or following subconscious scripts
Next step Mutually agreed action or scheduled follow-up meeting Absolutely essential for a seller to secure a commitment to a next step in each buyer interaction, otherwise the win probability plummets
Self-disclosure loop The act of sharing personal information releases dopamine in the brain, causing pleasurable feelings and lowering inhibitions, which continues the cycle By asking open questions, using active listening techniques, and becoming comfortable with silence, the seller can gain control over the conversation and learn about the true needs and intentions of the buyer
Dual process discovery Questioning technique that builds empathy while revealing important details about the deal UHPs develop their own repertoire of questions that move from broad open-ended, to probing, to clarifying questions, while maintaining positive intent and empathy
Bridging Messaging technique that links the buyer’s stated (or implied) problem, to a personalized recommendation, to a planned result Avoids “pitch slapping” and increases buyer’s affinity for the seller, which positively influences decision making

Next up on leadertainment.com will be a downloadable summary of the major sections of the book Sales EQ by Jeb Blount. Looking for more great books? Check out the essential reading list.

image: amazon.com