Successful organisations sometimes face a dilemma. Being dominant with market share and financially secure the pressures for reinvention and change have to be created as they do not naturally exist.
The capability of their salespeople and their managers is usually firmly relevant to the current or past state rather than the future desired state. The delivery of a changed customer experience is made therefore harder when those delivering the change have to first change themselves.
This was the challenge facing Ballance Agri-nutrients in 2014. One of the big two players in the New Zealand fertiliser market, the co-op decided to reinforce its product portfolio with strategic purchases in the animal nutrition and technology areas. If Ballance salespeople could start selling this expanded range to their farmer customers to enhance its customer experience, the co-op would be able to grow overall sales and further cement loyalty amongst its farmer shareholders.
This was a healthy challenge for a 130-strong nationwide sales team that saw itself as trusted advisors in fertiliser, with a minimal track record in selling the alternate products. It wasn’t simply a question of uploading new product knowledge. The new direction would require the sales team to learn new skills in opening up conversations and spotting opportunities to cross-sell.
The Learning Wave realised that change needed to be driven from within. If we could equip Ballance’s 18 area sales managers with the skills to become effective coaches of their own teams, then the whole organisation would be moving in the right direction.
So phase one involved workshops, in-field training and one-on-one coaching for each area sales manager. A Learning Wave facilitator involved them in role-plays and gave detailed feedback of their coaching efforts. Each session was captured on video and played back on the spot. The area sales managers quickly worked out how to give useful feedback and start equipping their teams with the knowledge and focus to lift their game.
With the sales managers starting to understand and making changes, it was time to focus on the almost 100 frontline salespeople. The Learning Wave created a development centre and sales capability framework that scoped the required selling capabilities. Then we created a highly realistic simulation programme, with sales managers playing the role of farmers. Alongside them, a Learning Wave facilitator videoed each simulation and then played it back. There were many “Aha!” moments as the salespeople saw themselves missing buying signals, failing to cross-sell and steering conversations into unhelpful areas.
This programme was rolled out around the country with each one-on-one learning session taking two-and-a-half hours per salesperson. Having an external Learning Wave facilitator delivering the initial feedback took some of the pressure out of the situation, so both the salesperson and their manager could focus on the positives.
The finishing touch was a detailed report on each salesperson’s performance during the simulation. It included scores on a range of critical skills, identifying any gaps to be addressed. Once all the salespeople had been through the learning phase, this data was complied and summarised, so that Ballance managers had a snapshot of capabilities and work-ons across their entire sales team.
When The Learning Wave first became involved, Ballance had just emerged from an organisational shake-up. The learning programme we developed brought the entire sales team together – from top to bottom and around the country – and reset the sales team on its new strategic direction.
Ballance sales managers were enlisted as drivers of change and equipped to coach their teams to new heights. To help them deliver this, The Learning Wave programme gave them a spreadsheet after the initial training phase with objective data on capabilities across all their team members. This showed particular gaps or vulnerabilities across the team – which could then be plugged by tailored learning initiatives.
Managers and salespeople alike were encouraged to take control of their own development as the organisation moved to a new business model involving a diverse range of products and services beyond fertiliser. This in turn is providing the foundation for a larger footprint in the rural sales sector and helping Ballance nurture more broadly based relationships with its farmer customers.
“The Learning Wave impressed with their ability to find solutions for our challenges that were not off the shelf. Their flexibility make them a delight to work with and enable us to customise each programme not only to the audience but also to the individuals in the group”
Steve Taylor, Commercial Manager, Business Extension, Ballance Agri Nutrients