It is our pleasure to recently have interviewed Thomas Brouwer of The Sales Strategist, particularly given Thomas’ many years of experience in providing training in the sales sector. Thomas provides a fascinating insight below into the world of sales training! Don’t forget, if you also want to be interviewed you can contact us here.
1. Tell us a little bit about yourself Thomas
I was born and raised near Amsterdam, the Netherlands, although most of my life I’ve been living, and working around the world.
I have been in Spain since 2015 where I live with my wife and daughter. I still work around the world, although now usually in a digital way.
I obtained my bachelor’s degree in business administration with a specialization in International Business Management from the University of Applied Science in Amsterdam (2012) and my master’s degree from the University of Lund (2014) in Business Administration with a specialization in Managing people, knowledge, and change.
My bachelor’s degree provided me with a comprehensive understanding of how to analyze the external environment for businesses, how it changes, and the potential impact of those changes on businesses and their business models.
My master’s degree has proven very useful in gaining a thorough understanding of the internal business environment and the impact of changes on people, how this impacts the business, and how to manage continuous change to keep the business moving forward.
After graduating with my master’s degree, I started working in business consulting right after, predominantly for B2B technology companies, and I am still doing so with great pleasure today.
Since mid-2020, I co-own a boutique consulting firm together with my business partner and friend, Rutger van der Pol.
We are driven by bridging the gap between an ideal business strategy and operations to enable our clients to get the best out of their teams and help the company to reach its potential.
Since we founded our consultancy, I’ve been truly happier and more energized for it.
We really found our own way and it is a truly amazing journey to be on. It is a privilege to work with so many different companies and people, to share knowledge, and learn from each other, every day.
2. I understand that you have many years of experience with onboarding and training new hires in growing B2B technology companies. Can you tell us more about this?
As we have been focused on improving the marketing and sales operations of B2B technology companies for many years now, especially tech companies in an early-stage growth phase, an important part of my work is onboarding and training new hires.
At ‘The Sales Strategist’, for example, we often work with companies in an early-stage growth phase where the company is transitioning from founder-centered to a stand-alone marketing and sales team.
This means that at this stage, the company needs to hire new people who can perform their roles in a structured and independent way – versus the founder doing it her or himself.
In such a situation, it is of essential importance to us that there is a well-defined commercial process and that it is understood and correctly executed by all the people in the team in order to achieve an effective and scalable commercial organization.
Especially when it comes to new hires in a fast-paced business environment, it’s important to get them up to speed as quickly as possible and train them on the commercial processes that are specifically designed for the role(s) they will fulfill in the organization.
We usually start with an open conversation about what the new hire’s previous experience is and to give them insight into the end goal of the training.
Then we introduce the role(s) and process(es) related to the new hire’s function and work out together which parts we will need to cover and to what degree, in what order, and at what pace the onboarding should be completed.
As the execution of marketing and sales are generally quite practical tasks, the theoretical explanation does not have to take long; in a single session, we can go through the commercial process, the different roles in it, and the roles and responsibilities of the learner as part of the process.
By supporting this session with visual imagery and graphical representations, we make an abstract process with many steps and actors clear and easy to understand for the learner.
Plus, they can also easily refer to the documentation later when needed. Nonetheless, we also make sure there are a few follow-up sessions planned during the first weeks of activity to guide the application, clarify doubts, and provide coaching where necessary.
As marketing and sales roles are executed with the support of tools, we design our training in a very task-oriented and practical way: we briefly show where the main functionalities are and how they work and then let the learner go through the commercial process in a task-oriented way.
Our main goal here is to take away the fear of the new technology and show the learner that it is not too complicated for them to use and that they ultimately will benefit from using it.
By introducing them step by step while simultaneously performing their daily tasks, we already create practical connections in the knowledge and behavior of the learner through which the application of their new roles is more easily internalized.
3. You are involved with training in terms of changes (especially digitizing) commercial processes, with a strong emphasis on change management and training on the new methods and processes I understand.
Yes, due to the nature of our work, we are essentially always training people to help them change their way of working.
For example, one of the most common issues we address with our clients is the introduction of new sales processes and the implementation of new tools to digitize the processes as much as possible.
This means that a large part of our work is focused on implementing these changes and training the marketing and salespeople on the correct execution of the new or adjusted processes and on how to use these new tools in their day-to-day work.
To limit resistance and increase adaptation to the new processes and tools, we involve the marketing and sales professionals in the process design from the start.
This bottom-up approach helps us to ensure we will implement processes that are closely aligned with the end-users day-to-day reality.
Nonetheless, resistance to changing the way of working remains to some extent as it naturally is more effortless to keep doing the things as you always have.
A beautiful example is this drawing, a classic, where two cavemen are trying to pull a cart full of stones with square wheels, passing by a man who offers them round wheels, upon which they say “no, thanks, we’re too busy”. This happens all the time.
What we do in this respect is to pay special attention to the practical considerations in the new commercial process and the digital execution of people’s tasks.
It is therefore hugely important to us not to focus too much on the theory and the theoretical outcome, but rather to use real-life examples and practical best practice cases to show people that they can do their existing work in a different way and to their own benefit.
The goal here is that the marketing and sales professional understands that working according to this process and with the new tools is not a waste of time, but that they can work more efficiently when they have mastered them.
It is essentially about making a time investment to obtain better results for yourself, your team, and your company.
Finally, what we always look for is so-called change champions. These champions usually present themselves early in the design process as highly motivated and vocal contributors to the project.
Champions are people who can help us facilitate change by advocating the benefits of new processes and technologies among their colleagues and help us in the training process by teaching their coworkers through the example of their own work.
This really helps to reinforce our training, when people see others succeeding by adopting our methods.
4. What subjects do you provide training on? Your top 5?
What we do depends on our client’s needs, but in general, we provide training on the following subjects:
- Business model design and validation: we provide training on how to design a lean business model and how to validate your assumptions in the market by means of a systematic approach.
- Buyer and client journey: we provide training on the identification and mapping of buyer and client journeys
- Process optimization and digitization: this is what we’ve been talking about before, providing training on the application of commercial processes and tools to improve the performance of existing team members or new hires.
- Tracking performance: we provide training on what data to track, how to measure it, and how to evaluate the data to understand your marketing and sales team and people’s performance.
- Effective meetings: we provide training on how to organize, prepare, and hold effective marketing and sales meetings to facilitate knowledge sharing and alignment among team members and the teams among themselves.
5. What are the biggest challenges as a trainer?
The biggest challenge we have is the lack of time and energy people have to acquire new knowledge and skills and adjust their behavior subsequently.
We help shape the context, providing the structure and facilitating the process, but ultimately it is the people who have to make it happen.
To stay with my previous example, this often happens when change is imposed from the top down (the CEO wants everything to ‘go digital’) while no or little time is freed up for the individuals who actually have to make the change.
This makes it challenging for us as well as our clients to make the required changes to improve the overall performance of the company in the short term (the goal of the CEO).
In such cases it is of the utmost importance for us, as outsiders who come to cause a change in the status quo, to get the entire team on board by demonstrating the possible value each individual can get out of it and also quickly identifying the people that are most enthusiastic so they can help us facilitate the change.
Often there are several people who do understand why changes are being made and are highly motivated to acquire new knowledge and skills.
If they fit well in their team, they can promote the changes verbally and even spread the newly acquired knowledge further within their organization, based on the example they set by doing it themselves.
6. What is your favorite part of being a trainer?
The best moment is when during a workshop session the theory and practice come together in the participant’s minds and it just suddenly clicks with a learner.
We are generally transmitting knowledge on many different subtopics (such as process, role, tools, KPIs, etc.) and it is at the beginning quite a lot of material to take in for learners, and sometimes a bit overwhelming.
It is therefore important to us to cover the material calmly, in digestible blocks, and to provide frequent repetition and summary moments.
By returning to the connection with previously discussed topics during the treatment of a new topic, we show the relationship between all these different sub-topics.
The moment when everything suddenly clicks and the learner begins to explain the relationships between different topics to you, and they become visibly enthusiastic about the new knowledge they have acquired and the new expertise they have gained as a result, make the effort we put in transferring this knowledge enormously worthwhile.
Moreover, and from this change in individuals, it is amazing to see how the newly acquired knowledge and implemented process and tools truly enable our clients to work more effectively and efficiently, dedicating their time and energy to tasks that have a direct and positive impact on the performance of the company.
7. How do you identify the training needs of the employees or people you train?
To identify the needs well we need to have a clear understanding of the roles a person fulfills. For this reason, it is critical to have well-defined roles that are in line with the commercial process. Only this way you can have a clear picture of the skills required to make your commercial process a success.
Once we have this you can compare the existing skills of a person against it. We generally do this by means of an interview with learners, sometimes complemented with an online test to understand the needs in a broader sense (when we are dealing with a large group of learners this can be helpful to get an idea of where the group stands).
Nonetheless, we strongly prefer to have close one-on-one contact with the people we train with, as it greatly promotes engagement and involvement, and this ultimately ensures much better results.
8. Your one tip on how to be a good trainer
In my view, a good trainer pays much more attention to the person (s)he is training than to the knowledge (s)he wants to impart. This may sound a bit counterintuitive, but in the end, it’s all about the learner.
If you are confident enough in your own knowledge on the subject you are teaching, you don’t have to stick very tightly to a predetermined program; you can go at the pace that suits the individual and in a much more human way: through challenging conversations and practical examples.
In this way, you also make more practical connections for the person with their already existing knowledge and experience, which makes the material stick much better and also makes it easier for the learners to put their newly acquired knowledge into practice.
If there’s anything that we’ve learned, it’s that nothing gets done, no change can stick, and no company can grow if we don’t get the people on board.
This is why we value working closely with people to create an amazing journey together and make sure they achieve their goals.
Find Out More About Thomas
Thomas Brouwer is a Co-Founder and Senior Business Consultant at The Sales Strategist, holding a Master of Science in Business Administration with a specialization in Managing People, Knowledge, and Change.
Thank you Thomas for a great interview!
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