An Interview With Mike Sokol (pictured), Sr. Sales & Operations Training Manager, B2B, Best Buy

At last month’s Sales Training Excellence Circle event, Mike Sokol of Best Buy led us in a lively discussion about sales methodologies—what they are, what they have to offer, and how to leverage them in our organizations.

As a follow-up, we at Fredrickson thought it would be interesting to hear the full story of how Mike’s team helped select and implement the new sales methodology at Best Buy. So we asked Mike for an interview, and he was happy to oblige.


FL: What was your L&D team’s role with the new sales methodology?

Mike: We led the effort.

FL: You mean the whole process, from evaluation and selection, through implementation? Can you tell us how that all went?

Mike: Yes, we led the process from the start. We began with an exploration of our current methodology that lasted about 10 months. We did a lot of interviews and focus groups, we talked with others in the industry about what they were using, and we issued an RFI to vendors.

You have to be cognizant of when you’re making a change like this. Is the change necessary? Is it clear that you can realize positive net benefits? It’s really important for the answer to be yes, that change is necessary.

Our current methodology was stale. We wanted something more scientific – a more scientific method that could be predictably effective. We needed a methodology that could be distilled down to certain behaviors. Those behaviors have to be aligned with our values and our processes, and with our core beliefs.

We researched everything we could. Out of the forty or so options, ten rose to the top. And then we took an honest look at what we tried to solve for and what our core beliefs were. By sticking to our beliefs, we were able to eliminate a lot, and finally arrived at our choice.

You can’t just say, “Here’s a product or a solution.” Is your vendor going to be a business partner moving forward? We have to pivot, adjust, etc. So we need our vendor to grow and adapt with us. You have to really vet your suppliers and make sure they’re going to be with you.

FL: And next for your team, on to the adoption and change management stage?

Mike: Yes, we had to wear multiple hats. We were the change agents. We did a lot of legwork in the L&D function.

We formed a team with stakeholders and sales leadership. We got a rhythm on the calendar. That forward-looking process helped. We did bi-weekly rhythms with the leadership group, keeping the meetings to 5-8 people so they were manageable.

Our (L&D) role was both to influence and to facilitate. We made sure that everyone’s voice was heard so they felt they owned the plan going forward.

These three things were CRITICAL:

  • Stakeholder alignment
  • Role clarity and accountability
  • Having a sustainability plan with coaching as the focal point

I can’t stress enough how many times we reviewed these with folks. It’s wishful thinking to expect people to get something with only one meeting. You need to anchor and allocate the appropriate amount of time to make sure your change fits. It’s really about making sure the stakeholders have ownership. You need to make sure the leadership understands their own role, etc.

FL: You mentioned coaching. That can take a lot of different forms in sales training. Can you tell us more about how you use coaching?

Mike: For us, we had to define what “coaching” meant. Different people would all give you different answers. You need to be clear what the expectations are.

Frequency? How often? What tools?

We started by defining the difference between knowledge and competency. We leveraged a lot of simulations and role plays. We also observed a lot of calls. From there, you can get a sense of the actual competency of the individual. I need to see you do it in person, in the actual moment, so that we can see what behaviors you’re applying and where you need help.

Be crystal-clear and consistent about your expectations. It’s about consistency and about having coaching and expectations and following through with that.

FL: Can you share with us some other components of your sales training?

Mike: I’d say it’s unique for each business. Each firm has its own values, beliefs, etc. My advice in the market would be to be authentic. Find something that’s going to match beliefs and values—I can’t say that enough.

For us at Best Buy, one of our values is to talk less and listen more. With that in mind, we focused training around asking high-value questions. Rather than the sales person driving the conversation, how can we put the customer in the driver seat? With this approach, we spend much less time making sales pitches, and most of the time listening and advising.

We also frequently interview our top sales performers and share that information through podcasts and other media. This has been a great way to keep the focus on best practices fresh and evolving.

FL: Are you measuring effectiveness?

Mike: Yes. It’s difficult to pick quantitative variables and tie them back to outcomes. We do look at top-line (revenue) performance over time, and we’ve seen some success there. We also look at the top sales performers and we can see how their use of the behaviors plays a role in their performance.

There are also qualitative measures. Our sales leaders and the top performers are our biggest advocates of the methodology. They will attest that their improvements are because of the sales methodology and use of those behaviors.

We also tie performance to group sellers and teams…what does the coaching look like in those groups?

FL: Do you have a success story you’d like to share?

Mike: We procured and implemented a “sales” methodology – but we use it in EVERYTHING. The value of the methodology is not in generating more sales, but in generating better relationship with ALL of our business partners, internal and external. It’s what we strive for.

Best Buy trained EVERYBODY on the methodology. And that’s exciting. When you think about your brand, the more you and everyone on your team is CONSISTENT ABOUT WHAT YOU’RE DRIVING FOR, the more your methodology shows up with the client. It’ll become more genuine to the client.

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