Chris McDonell, President, McDonell Consulting & Development
If you are an executive, you want your employees to be the best they can be at their jobs, right? And, you are willing to provide them with any resource – within reason – to help them succeed, as you recognize that not only are happy employees more productive, but if they have new skill sets and an enhanced knowledge base through proper training, they can help you grow the company’s revenue base.
This may all sound level headed and straightforward; however, a surprisingly large number of executives and managers are hesitant about investing in their employees via professional training and development. Why? One of the reasons is that businesses are afraid they will not see a return on investment (ROI) simply because they fear a skilled and competent employee will take their talents elsewhere, perhaps most damagingly to a competitor.
When faced with this argument, Chris McDonell, president of McDonell Consulting & Development, Inc., an authorized licensee of world-renowned Sandler Training, says he often invokes a favorite tagline: “If you think training your employees and having them leave is expensive … Try NOT training them and having them stay.”
“Some executives are fearful that if they invest in training an employee it’s more likely that person will take those skills elsewhere. However, with the companies we work with, we encourage the executives to be upfront with their employees and tell them: ‘We are investing in you. These are tools you will have to grow personally and professionally. Obviously, we never want to see top talent leave, though you can take them with you if you leave this organization.’ With this transparency, executives find that the mindset of their employees changes, and the appreciation they are investing in them creates loyalty and produces a desire to perform, produce, work hard, and have a good work ethic.”
Training your employees to improve their skill sets can be complemented by promoting from within. “I believe succession planning should be a goal for all companies looking at 2016. Who should run the company as the executive team looks to retire? Are we promoting from within? Should we? One of the main reasons people leave a company is they cannot see a clear path for advancement. Develop team members so that they know in one, three or five years they are in line to take on a new position consistent with their goals. Some companies want to keep an employee in a particular position because they are doing well in it, and they don’t want to have to hire someone to take their place if a promotion occurs. Allowing top talent to grow, advance and achieve their goals generates an amazing team culture and allows organizations to attract other top talent.”
Training is critical for new employees, too. “There is a hidden cost in not investing in your team,” McDonell says. “If you have someone come on board – whether it’s sales, customer service, operations or management – you can’t think they will learn the job by osmosis because they can just watch a colleague and know how to do the job.” McDonell recognizes the importance of on-the-job training to get an employee acclimated, though the absence of a structured, consistent on-boarding process can mean the difference between a valuable, productive team member and a costly hiring mistake. The sales and leadership training his company provides is focused on the entire employee lifecycle, through continuous skills development to maintain high performance.
“With our clients – we work with them for an extended period of time. Many for multiple years, and some perhaps for life as a valued partner. A number of companies look at training as a quick fix to achieve a short burst of productivity … send employees to a one-day workshop to get immediate results. While the employees may leave a workshop and feel energized and be more productive for a few weeks, we find that 30 to 60 days later, they return to their old habits.” In addition to its commitment to on-going, reinforcement training, McDonell Consulting & Development attributes its success in being a locally-owned, independent business backed by the international Sandler Training brand. “There are more than 260 Sandler Training locations worldwide, so we can tap into that intellectual collateral, expanding our experience and credibility, and providing us to be ‘industry specific’ in nearly every industry,” says McDonell. He adds that being a licensee of Sandler also is beneficial for his global accounts. “We can be the central hub for them, and we can also place their employees in training in a Sandler Training location around the state, country or even the world.”
A Collaborative Effort
When working with a new client, McDonell says one of the first steps he takes is to benchmark the team, from the executives down, to gain a clearer understanding of which employees in the organization would benefit from training, and the ideal development path for each. He says one of the primary objectives is to determine whether there is a definite commitment by leadership for a clearly defined vision for the company. “We look for what we call the four S’s – Staff, Skills, Structure and Strategy. Is the right staff in place and in the right positions in order to grow your company? For instance, do you need more inside or outside salespeople? Do you know who should be in which role? Is there a constant recruitment process in place, or do you just wait until someone leaves and then search for a replacement? Finally, who will manage all of this?” McDonell asks. “What are the skill sets employees need to be successful in their roles in building a world-class customer service, sales, or leadership team? As for structure, is the company lean or top heavy when it comes to managers, or decentralized where executives have too much contact with all areas?”
Strategy may be the most crucial one to consider. “For example, some companies are focused solely upon top-line revenue and don’t consider margins. We aim to find whether the sales staff understands the value of what they are selling so that they are not frequently asking management to cut prices,” McDonell says.
Of course, professional training is an investment by the company, not an expense. Executive buy-in for the training investment can be challenging for companies who haven’t done so before, or for those who have had mixed results with short-term training options. If a company is struggling financially or is in a start-up or growth phase, they may be concerned about surviving the next year and focused on immediately increasing revenue, instead of planning on long-term success. McDonell says that in these cases, it’s crucial executives are transparent and are upfront about the challenges they are facing.
“We have to create an atmosphere of trust and confidence to allow them to be open and honest with their situation if we are going to be able to help them,” he says. Recognizing the company may be facing some unique or first-time challenges, McDonell will collaborate with the leadership team to identify areas to not only right the ship, but also steer them toward success. “Are salespeople just aggressively waiting for the phone to ring and not doing anything proactive? Instead of throwing money at the problem without knowing what the true problem is, we diagnose the true cause and cost of the problem and put into place a comprehensive plan to fix it,” McDonell says.
Figuring out how to increase sales is one of the most maddening challenges facing any business leader. There are many reasons why sales figures may not be where a company needs or expects them to be. McDonell says that in his 20-plus years working in corporate America before starting his own business seven years ago, most training programs he encountered were focused solely on technique. “The techniques taught were ones that may have worked for someone else but they did not take into consideration the communication or behavioral style of the salesperson or what they were selling,” he recalls.
“We focus on what we call the ‘Success Triangle,’ which explores behavior, attitude and technique. Behavior is often ignored … most executives will say: ‘We need X number of widgets sold. Why have you not sold more?’ We focus instead on mapping out a recipe, if you will, that says if you do these steps over the next three to four months, you will start to see results. We look at what proactive behaviors that salesperson needs to be successful – maybe they need to more strategic networking events or maybe they just need to make more prospecting calls or request additional LinkedIn invitations.”
McDonell Consulting and Sandler Training recognizes the need to look to tomorrow’s leaders by creating “The Success Playbook for Young Adults,” a partnership with Choice Point Achievement to build confidence and character while providing support to help young adults make good decisions during crucial years. Led by McDonell Consulting’s Lori Rogers, the program works similarly to other trainings with benchmark assessments. Students meet in the classroom once a month and are offered coaching sessions to guide them through goal setting, communication and leadership skills, mental preparations, values and ethics training and time management. Classes are forming now and are limited in size. If you would like to learn more, or are interested in signing up, call 410-339-5168, or visit www.mcdonell.sandler.com.
Many times, the salesperson has all the tools and knowledge to be successful, but a lack of self-esteem is getting in the way. “I call this ‘head trash.’ If a salesperson is frustrated because he or she cannot get results, I’ll ask, ‘Have you actually tried these steps with conviction and the right approach and it’s failed every time, or are you simply planning out the perceived result in your head and automatically assuming it won’t work? It’s almost always the latter. This is why it’s important to address behavior and attitude and not just technique.”
McDonell and his team also look to identify what he calls “Hidden Sales Costs,” which can include high employee turnover, extended sales cycles, bad sales forecasts and unnecessary price concessions. However, one behavior that can have a significant impact on revenue is poor prospecting. As important as it is for salespeople to land appointments and to get in front of potential clients, if they are not in front of the right prospects, they are not only wasting their time, but also the prospect’s time.
“If in a meeting the salesperson is simply showing off all the features his or her business has, it’s all about the salesperson and there is no relationship being built. If the prospect is not gaining any perceived value from the discussion, then the focus is always going to be about price, which significantly reduces your ability to close the sale. However, if you build a relationship via the quality of the questions you ask, related to their individual pains, prospects are more likely to be candid, you will have a more honest discussion, and the prospect will believe that the investment being made will be offset by more optimism, less concern and more productivity.”
McDonell’s clients are not solely salespeople; in fact, a big part of his business is focused on leadership development, especially for executives and managers. Some of the areas he focuses on are coaching, hiring, performance evaluation, managing turnover, team selling and effective communication. McDonell also stresses delegating but with a nuance approach, as he believes delegating is not simply handing off responsibilities to others. “You must allow your employees to fail. Otherwise, if you enable them and always are there to solve every obstacle and problem they encounter, what happens when you are on vacation? They are not empowered to make an important decision and to also know the time when they should not make certain decisions.” Accountability is also important.
“If you don’t hold everyone accountable, you cannot hold anyone accountable. Many times managers rely upon the top two or three salespeople to make monthly goals; however, over time, the others are not motivated because they know those top performers will always come through for the team. We work with managers and leaders to foster an atmosphere of accountability and to minimize blame and finger pointing.”
Training can help reduce this finger pointing when everyone speaks the same language and is on the same page. “We work with our clients to have sales, credit, operations, customer service, etc., all go through the same training at the beginning to tackle effective communication, dealing with difficult people and conflict resolution,” McDonell says. I95
Are You Truly Utilizing LinkedIn?
Many business people refer to LinkedIn as simply the social media channel for doing business. However, Keith Daw, vice president of business development and trainer for McDonell Consulting & Development, sees an untapped resource within LinkedIn. With this in mind, Daw created “Maximize LinkedIn,” a training session not focused on the marketing uses of the site, but rather on incorporating LinkedIn as a strategic, proactive tool within your sales prospecting plan. Since Daw developed the training session in 2012, there have been more than 500 “Maximize LinkedIn” classes conducted, and the program has been adopted by Sandler Training centers throughout the United States, Canada and Europe.
“Let’s say you want to schedule a meeting with an individual and you see you share a connection with a trusted colleague … how can you get a warm introduction with that business leader?” asks Daw. “LinkedIn has been a focus for marketing for years but not for sales,” says Daw, who stresses LinkedIn is a free resource for generating sales. “Let’s say you are attending a business awards luncheon or ceremony. Look at the list of award winners and enter their name into LinkedIn. One of your connections – let’s call her Vicki – is connected to an award recipient. You can contact Vicki and ask if she is going to the event and whether she will introduce you, or maybe she can email that person in advance, avoiding that awkward creeper moment at the event,” says Daw.
“LinkedIn must be a part of your prospecting plan, and there are phenomenal tools available on LinkedIn many professionals do not know how to utilize. For instance, did you know you can use your alumni network to find a prospect within 30 seconds if you know where to look? The public sessions and customized trainings we conduct for organizations unlock a ton of opportunity and create a lot of ‘Ah ha’ moments,” Daw adds.
McDonell Consulting & Development, Inc.
Towson, MD Office
810 Gleneagles Court, Suite 103
Towson, MD 21286
Phone: (410) 339-5168
Bel Air, MD Office
108 E. Wheel Road, Suite 102
Bel Air, MD 21015
Phone: (410) 339-5168