Global Sales Program Roll-outs: The Good, the Complicated and the Overlooked

By David Szen on Feb 8, 2018

Sales organizations of all sizes have the desire to transform, train, and develop talent, but rolling out a sales program in a global firm can get hairy quickly. While global sales transformation initiatives are exciting and ideal projects for outside consultants (like us), there are definite pitfalls. Whether you are responsible for planning and rolling out a program, or a sales manager leading your team through it, you play an important role in the successful execution and adoption of the desired change.

Having participated in our fair share of these global deployments, here is a list of lessons learned, organized around “the good, the complicated, and the overlooked”.

The Top 3 Good:

  1. Organizational Alignment and Focus. When an organization gets this right, the program can serve as a beacon. Sales and sales leadership are complicated beasts that involve technical skills, soft skills, quantitative analysis, market strategy, customer segmentation, business planning, account planning, and many other skill sets. High performing sales organizations begin with well-defined program themes and communicate and align globally from the start. It is critical to communicate clearly on these themes and topics early and often. True, “global” can be a daunting word to infuse into a program, but leaders and sales teams appreciate when an organization makes the commitment to bring the whole team on the same page. A common, global language across a sales organization is a key mark of success for any firm and contributes positively to closing rates, a shorter sales process, client retention, revenue growth, and hitting growth targets.

Program Planner Tip: Develop and implement a global plan to regularly communicate program themes. 

Sales Manager Tip: Find the relevance of program elements in your day-to-day and encourage your team to do the same. Communicate and celebrate successes.

  1. Well-informed HQ with Strong Field Connection. When Learning & Development, Sales Enablement, Sales Leadership, or Training are located at “Corporate HQ,” global satellite locations often see the HQ people as the ones “who don’t get it” because they live in the glass tower. A global program that gets HQ more engaged, visible, and working closer with local teams around the globe ensures that they actually see and hear the issues prevalent in the organization … and the field will respect HQ’s interest. Not only does this improve future programs, but there is no replacement for the ground-level knowledge gained from the day-to-day interactions and conversations that occur.

Program Planner Tip: Ensure that HQ people spend quality time in the Field to listen to front-line sellers and incorporate learnings in program design.

Sales Manager Tip: Remove your biases about HQ staff. Be open and available to answer their questions with honest and constructive feedback.

  1. Recognition of High Potential Staff Members. Praise from far away (HQ) is valuable, but when praise occurs closer to the street-level at the point of execution, it takes on a whole new meaning. During a global sales program roll-out, an organization gets to see people in the classroom, in the field with clients, in 1:1 interactions, and in strategic sales situations. The diversity of settings helps the top achievers shine, showing organizations where to invest. I have personally seen high potential staff members show up in different parts of the world, because they were promoted after being spotted by a sales leader in a global program. 

Program Planner Tip: During deployment, use the unique opportunity to identify and recognize top performers in the field.

Sales Manager Tip: Leverage the same rapport, listening, and influencing skills you use with customers to actively participate in program sessions and share your knowledge with your global peers.

I am 100% sure that I left out a few positives, but these Top 3 are huge advantages for global sales program success. Who wouldn’t be happy when their sales teams aligned and focused, HQ is informed and effective, and key staff members are properly recognized?

But along with the good can come some bad. What complications might organizations expect during a global sales program roll-out?

The Top 3 Complications:

  1. Culture, Culture, and More Culture Issues. Consider the United States, Europe, and Asia and how different cultural norms influence communication style, language, coaching, reporting structures, and client interaction. If you are going to deliver a program on sales technique, coaching, or soft-skills, be ready to hear “that is not how it works here.” For example, consider the idea of coaching questions. A Leadership program will typically arm leaders with good coaching questions to help assess competence and raise self-awareness amongst sales professionals of their areas of needed development. Sounds logical right? Well, in Europe, they are much more direct and see the coaching questions as too “fluffy.” In Asia, the coaching questions are perceived as a challenge to the person’s competence. If you don’t consider these differences in advance, it is either back to the drawing board, tailor the program mid-stream, or plan for low adoption, which makes no sense at all. Again, I could cite hundreds of culture issues, some as simple as the double cheek kiss or the two-handed business card presentation, but I won’t. Organizations have to be prepared for some clashes and find ways to minimize them in the program deployment. 

Program Planner Tip: Before deploying, test your program across global markets for cultural friction and make adjustments as necessary before full roll-out begins. 

Sales Manager Tip: Provide feedback on cultural nuances when asked to participate in a pilot program. If a cultural slip occurs and is rolled-out in the final program, share your input in a constructive way that doesn’t derail the process. 

  1. Logistics Can Be a Nightmare. Yes, global sales organizations are likely familiar with how to get things accomplished, but putting on training events across a big planet is not an easy task. If HQ has a global team with local contacts, it gets easier, but the wheels do come off every once in awhile and actions take a long time to get completed. A global program has a ton of moving parts and something as simple as materials production can create “issues.” If you are shipping workbooks and supplies that were produced in the United States to another location, like a hotel where the event is being held, don’t assume that the materials will be there when you arrive. They are likely being held in Customs as mysterious, heavy cardboard boxes. If you are printing locally in another country, the folks at their version of Kinko’s might not speak English; so, when you call with questions, it may not go so well. Everything has to be done earlier than normal, be well thought-out and may require more orchestration.  If the logistics are messy, the organization can actually go backwards, and sales staff loses confidence in HQ’s ability to think things through. Do not underestimate the logistics and know which countries require a VISA, even if you are going to be there for 2 days. 

Program Planner Tip:  Plan with local office contacts to manage logistics in each market; add a cushion in your project plan for slip-ups and missed deadlines.

Sales Manager Tip: Be understanding if logistics don’t go as smoothly as planned. Don’t let a logistics snafu get in the way of your learning.

  1. Adoption After the Program is an Exercise in “Variable.” Once the decision is made to invest in a global program, there is no doubt that someone will ask: “How do we know this was successful after we are done?” Indeed, it is true that after a program is delivered, the degree to which people execute is highly variable. Many factors impact this reality, and organizations must be prepared to find ways to drive adoption, keep the investment alive, and deliver results. Even in programs that are highly measurable, local kingdoms can return to whatever they were told to do or not to do before the folks from HQ showed up. For example, a program can have high adoption of business and account plans with very tangible results in some regions and virtually no tangible evidence of progress in others. Why? Some leaders do not see the value, even though during the delivery, they “buy in.” This is the nature of the beast, and it takes a very determined team and diligent follow-through to get the most from a program. 

Program Planner Tip: Remember that your job doesn’t end with the conclusion of the last training session. Plan for consistent follow-up with all markets to ensure adoption.

Sales Manager Tip: Begin implementing program elements as soon as you are back in the office. Work them into your management cadence, such as in team meetings, one-on-ones with reps, and performance evaluations. Communicate successes to the Program Planners as they occur to demonstrate adoption of program elements.

Now that you are attuned to some of the common complications, I’d be remiss if I didn’t address some areas that often get overlooked during a global sales program roll-out. Remembering to think through these areas will hopefully help you to avoid some future pain. 

The Top 3 Often Overlooked:

  1. “We Train in English and Always Have.” Sorry, that does not mean that the people in the room understand English, even if they can read it and speak some of it. Local language delivery is almost always a better option, but it requires a big team of delivery people with language skills. I understand Spanish at a very basic level, but put me in a room with an instructor at full speed Spanish and English materials to read and I am lost.  Imagine someone in Japan who reads English well but only speaks it when they have to with a full-speed-ahead English trainer? Yes, conducting training in the local language challenges delivery and production of materials, but the people in the program will appreciate the efforts to help them learn and you’ll have better results after training, because main concepts weren’t lost in translation.

Program Planner Tip: If possible, use local language facilitators and materials. If this isn’t feasible, consider having a portion of the program, possibly reference guides or support webinars, in local languages to support the program adoption.

Sales Manager Tip: If the program is not delivered in your language and you are unsure of the meaning of a concept, ask the facilitator for further explanation. It may slow down the session slightly, but it’s critical to understand what is expected of you after the roll-out.

  1. Delivery Timing and Holidays/Vacations. “What is Kings Day?” I know, there are no good times of the year to try and get people in a training event, and there are always vacations on the books. But, let’s be frank in that summer (July/Aug), programs in most of the world, except Australia, are difficult to get 100% attendance. People are taking vacations, and in some areas of the world, they are two weeks long or more. Think, look at dates, consider the deployment team and their needs, watch out for client events and conferences, consider other local programs, give weeks and months of notice, and look at the big holidays in all cultures, even if you have never heard of it. Yep, Kings Day in the Netherlands is a big deal, and training the week of that celebration is a huge mistake. The people might show up, and if they do, they are angry and in the wrong state of mind for your insensitivities. If you are bothered by this, consider yourself in a training session the Wednesday of the week of American Thanksgiving, knowing you, too, have to schlep to an airport on the worst possible day there is to fly, because some program put on by HQ in Ireland is being deployed globally. You are angry. 

Program Planner Tip: Consider all local holidays during deployment planning; check calendars to ensure the majority of required participants are available and there are no major conflicts.

Sales Manager Tip: Be firm and clear (early) about local holidays and events to ensure your schedule is considered during the planning process.

  1. "We received some negative feedback from a session in Prague.” Ok, it happens. Not every event is perfect and not all audiences give the training or the trainer a 5-star report. If you are covering the planet, someone is not going to like the message, the trainer, an exercise, the tone, an example, a contradiction to what they know, the length of the day, the hotel, the food not being gluten-free, or the lack of a protein with the breakfast bar. Resist the urge to start making changes to the course, the delivery, the exercises, and core content based on feedback from delivery #2 of 56 sessions.  Most of the changes to realistically consider can be addressed through messaging, style, a change in an exercise, timing, or other minor tweaks. If changes are made too often based on feedback forms or other channels, the program gets inconsistent and diluted. Consider a pilot or two that helps you determine timing, validate the content, and gain a feel for the reception of the program before full deployment starts. Inform participants that the program is 90% complete and that we are shaping the last 10%. Resist the need to please everyone, since it is not possible. This is why there are so many flavors of ice cream. Not everyone likes vanilla fudge strawberry swirl. 

Program Planner Tip: Plan for a pilot program to test the material prior to the roll-out; know that a program cannot be all things to all people and resist the urge to make major edits once the roll-out has ensued.

Sales Manager Tip: Know that a global program may not seem ‘perfect’ in all respects to you as an individual, but it’s ok – and important – to share your constructive feedback on your evaluation form or with the facilitator/program planner.

I hope these Top 3 lists help you to achieve greater results from your next global deployment of a sales program and avoid some traps that can impede success. Global sales programs are complicated, important, career changing, positive, expensive, and time-consuming efforts that require cultural kid gloves in order to get right.

To continue the conversation or to learn more about how we can help you with your global sales program deployment, contact us at solutions@symmetricsgroup.com.

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David Szen

Written by David Szen

David Szen is a master facilitator and leadership development expert. As a Principal Consultant at Symmetrics Group, David has designed and delivered custom sales and leadership content for countless clients. He is most comfortable in front of groups or in keynote settings where his high-energy delivery style connects with people and brings content to life. David’s specialties include sales training design, leadership development, coaching performance management, workshop facilitation and strategic account planning. He recently co-authored the book The Multigenerational Sales Team with Symmetrics Group's founder Warren Shiver.

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