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Developing Judgment as a Competitive Advantage
better training delivery changes how sales reps work with prospects
In a Nutshell . . .
A human resources services company with offices around the world found it challenging to develop sales reps who could craft good opening proposals for new prospects. Their products were complex and most customers showed multiple needs in widely varying combinations. They needed sales reps to think flexibly and creatively, rather than depend on some foolproof formula to give them the one right answer (which didn't exist!).
They knew their message and their audience, but their delivery of the message was not effective.
A rich, realistic case study provided the crucial training tool to develop good sales judgment-- and the case study received a standing ovation from the trainees! These sales reps understood that while their competitors were trying to shoehorn prospects into "one size fits all" prefabricated solutions, they would be engaged in much more meaningful conversations with their prospects and customers.
Case Study Summary
Avoiding the Middle of the Road . . .
Let's look at two ends of a spectrum of case study complexity:
I'd argue that most case studies used in training should fall into one or the other of these two categories, and that too many of them actually end up somewhere in between.
The Virtue of Drill
Practice, practice, practice. Learning to recognize a situation or a significant cue, quickly and correctly calculating a result or a course of action, and many other basic job functions benefit enormously from repetition.
You want employees to practice some responses in a safe environment until the correct action is rapid and automatic, before they start giving those responses to customers or other significant players in your operations.
For that purpose, simple case studies that provide clear and quick feedback on the response are powerful tools. Try to strip out everything that doesn't pertain directly to the situation and the response.
And aim for quantity. Using many simple case studies focused on one teaching point is much more effective than giving them a case study that tries to address a couple of points at the same time. Train one part of the response with one set of tools, and when that response is good, work on the next component.
The other end of the spectrum, the rich, complex case study that doesn't point directly to a single, compact "right answer", develops a frequently overlooked, but crucial, employee attribute: judgment!
Maybe you're lucky. Maybe you're in a business where the best answer can always be generated directly by a procedure, a manual, a table or spreadsheet, or an algorithm. More realistically, most of the business world deals with human customers, suppliers, and employees in complex situations where there are no automatic answers, and getting a really good answer, much less a perfect one, depends on someone making judgments, someone making and implementing strategies and decisions without an ironclad guarantee that it is the one right way to proceed.
Not surprisingly, these skills are often underdeveloped in employees. This is a little messier, and just a little scarier, than working on a problem that has a known right answer. But more often than not, the judgment of the employees is a big differentiator between competing organizations.
The only way to develop experience with complex situations that don't generate automatic, unique solutions is to encounter those situations and learn from them. And that is most safely done with a case study, before playing with real money.
That means the case study has to be sufficiently rich, and, face it, sufficiently flexible and ambiguous, to allow different employees to come up with different "right" answers.
Why This Worked For This Client
The client was very happy with this case study. What made it work?
In the end, by the way, management was surprised and pleased by some of the creative solutions the sales reps offered -- great ideas the managers themselves might not have discovered without this exercise.
It Takes a Little Courage . . .
Developing judgment in your employees can post a huge return on your investment in their training. But it takes a little guts.
You have to be ready to accept two different answers as great answers to the same question. Not everyone is ready to do that, but when people get that kind of feedback and support from their managers and trainers, it opens the door to a tremendous competitive advantage, delivered by vastly more effective employees.
© 2007 Best Training Practices -- Will Kenny
© 2002 - 2010 Best Training Practices -- Will Kenny