September 19, 2005

Sales Innovation - An Interview with Ian Gilbert

In my experience sales/business development is one of the hardest things to get right no matter the size of company. Often the highest staff turnover occurs in the sales group. Ian Gilbert, the President of Third Core Communication, consistently delivers innovative and award-winning programs to dramatically enhance sales delivery.

Third Core operates in a crowded and mature market. It's a market that has millions of links when you search it on Google. What differentiates Third Core from traditional advisors is their ground-breaking immersive approach and their willingness to execute. This is why I know you will find value from my discussion with Ian Gilbert.

Ian Gilbert is the founder and President of Third Core Communication. Prior to Third Core he was Vice President Applications Sales at TELUS, having previously held key leadership and sales positions in Europe at Cable & Wireless, Parametric Technology, Reed Elsevier and Hewlett-Packard. A publicly recognized speaker and sales leader, Ian has been involved in the formation of a number of successful new technology companies

Q: Why did you start Third Core Communications?
A: I started Third Core out of sheer frustration. In my corporate sales leadership roles I had always been inundated with approaches from recruiters, trainers, consultants and other resources. I was frustrated by two aspects of their offerings. Firstly, they were narrow, never going beyond their narrow area of specialization. Secondly, there was never any suggestion that they might be able to help me execute. So, for example, recruiters would find me salespeople, but were not capable of working with me to ensure that the new recruit was successful. Trainers would run development programs, but would not go out into the field to help salespeople implement what they had learned. Consultants could help me define performance management processes, but would not work with my management team over time to inspebehaviorsurs and reinforce the process through execution.

I established Third Core to change these paradigms for good.

Secondly, I wanted to take a development program called Selling in Action program into the public domain. We had phenomenal response and results from this programme when we ran it in companies in Europe and North America, and I wanted to establish the program as a widely-available resource.

Q: Why is sales delivery one of the most difficult things for companies to accomplish?

A: Successful delivery demands really strong execution at all points of the sales value chain and, in addition, effective connections between all points in the chain. The sales environment is as close to the customer as an organization gets, and the ambiguity that this can create demands rational and consistent execution of a complete and robust process. In my experience, most companies have clear competencies in certain parts of the sales value chain, but few have mastery of the entire process.

Q: What is the Sales Value Chain? How does Third Core add value?

A: Simply put, it's the chain of activities involved in running and managing a sales operation. We defined the steps as follows:

Source, Assess, Test, Recruit, Orient, Develop, Manage, Reward, Mentor, Execute

We believe that there is extra value to be created within each phase. For example, instead of just training sales people to execute, or implementing a measurement system to see if they've executed, we get out in the field and execute with them.

Here's an example: On average, North American companies spend about $125,000 to find, assess, induct and orient each new professional sales person that they recruit, and yet more than 50% of new sales people fail to live up to expectations or objectives during the first 18 months of employment. Unfortunately, whilst sales recruitment companies are excellent at finding and screening candidates, they do little else. What if your recruitment partner found candidates, screened them, co-assessed them along side you, tested their capabilities in a live selling situation, oriented them, helped you orient them, provided them with a training program, made introductions for them at key prospects and spent two days a month for the first six months in the field, honing their skills and driving execution? Wouldn't that improve the likelihood of the new recruit actually delivering meaningful results in their first year? We think that it will.

Our view is that by going the extra step we can accelerate results dramatically for the individual and for the organization – through coaching, demonstration and even by doing it for them if needed.

This goes back to my frustration during my corporate days. So many resources are more than happy to advise you on what to do, or put your staff through yet another sales training program. I've still yet to meet one, though, who would actually roll up their sleeves and get out in front of customers with my people.

We turn this model on its head. Third Core looks first at the execution requirement, and then tracks backward so that our contribution is totally results-focused, and our contribution is direct and meaningful.

Q: Can you talk about the Selling in Action Program?
A: Certainly. We developed the Selling in Action program some years ago as a customized program for a communications company in the UK. The premise was, and still is, simple. We provide a controlled environment within which sales people apply their skills, and provide deep feedback and assistance to help them hone their skills. In its original form we set up a fictitious company and populated it with real (retired) executives. Sales teams then competed as they attempted to sell to this company. Throughout the experience they were assessed and coached, as was their manager, who was accompanied the whole time by a shadow. An experienced personal coach who helped them to hone their tactical leadership capability.

We think of it as a safe environment within which sales people can try things out, get a few things wrong, but ultimately get more things consistently right.

It's a little like military manoeuvres. It feels very real in every way. The experience is very challenging but incredibly rewarding and it focuses entirely on execution. As you would expect, we do not insist on using a certain selling methodology. We are entirely agnostic and focus our attention on the application of learned skills and processes.

As I said earlier, we've had phenomenal responses and results from the program wherever we've run it, and now we're expanding it to allow for a greater number of sales people to benefit from the experience.

Q: You have delivered amazing results for your clients. Can you recommend 3 areas for improvement that executives and entrepreneurs reading this interview can use right away?
A: Firstly, stop worrying about the skills of your salespeople. Focus first on their activity, both volume and direction. Seeing more of the right customers does improve results, even if skills are not improved.

Secondly, when measuring performance, think about the levers that can be controlled. 90% of sales performance is measured based on revenue results. Consider implementing measures based on activity, account planning and funnel quality. In other words, give sales people measures that they can control, today, in order to positively impact their results.

Finally, email Third Core will be delighted to help accelerate the performance of your readersÂ’ sales organizations. For more information about Third Core go to:

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