An Immersion Simulation: It’s the real thing. Sika is a specialty chemicals company with a leading position in the development and production of systems and products for bonding, sealing, damping, reinforcing and protecting in the building sector and motor vehicle industry. Sika has subsidiaries in 101 countries and manufactures in over 200 factories and generated annual sales of CHF 7.09 billion in 2018. To sustain its fast growth ambition, Sika invests heavily to boost Sales Skills through innovative development programs such as 'Making The Sale'.
This business case was written before the COVID-pandemic.
A professional website, a video of a boardroom meeting, artist renderings and specifications of an actual mega-project. Real-time meetings with stakeholders in which relationships evolve. The participants of Sika’s 'Making The Sale' are ready for a deep dive into the sales process with their potential client, ‘PCC’. They know they’re participating in a training programme, but everything feels real.
During a 2,5-day programme, experienced Sales Managers and Sales Representatives from Sika are immersed in a storyline as close to reality as it can get. This type of training methodology is called an ‘Immersion Simulation’. The potential customers, or Buying Centre, feature professional simulators. Yet there are no scripts, no predicted outcomes. Only real-life customer meetings, conversations, and human interactions.
The results of these client meetings, albeit successful or not, are based on one core element: the behaviour and skills of the participants and their ability to make a true connection with their stakeholders.
Dean Cannarozzi is responsible for training activities in the area of Global Sales, Pricing & Negotiation, and Leadership for 24,000 employees in over 100 countries. He is a strong supporter of live immersion simulations, because it really hits home with the participants. "We already had a solid program in place for Sales when I took on this role in 2017. The focus was on managing Sales as a project, providing sales planning tools, preparation and follow up with clients - basically a roadmap for success with their Key Accounts. What I found missing was the human element, the challenges and experiences associated with customer interaction. The question was how to closely replicate this within the confines of a classroom setting while avoiding isolated role plays. Complex sales generally don’t occur in isolated, fragmented interactions; they evolve over time within a realistic storyline. In collaboration with Keith Strunk, Owner Interlude Group, LLC - who was also the Lead Simulator in this program - and Schouten Global, 'Making the Sale' really came to life!"
Why Schouten Global as partner?
"When I started looking for a partner to design and run this programme, I had multiple suppliers pitch their proposal. I choose Schouten Global because they have great design capabilities and they understand simulations. At a fair price."
Dean continues, "The programme is run as a simulation from the beginning until almost the very end. In turn, three groups of participants have meetings with one of the client stakeholders. Except for the final debrief on the last day after the pitches, the simulation goes on 24/7 for 2,5 days. Participants have to adjust during the days to meet the client’s personality types and needs. Relationships are built and evolve, just like in real life. The participants can run into their 'clients' in the hotel, talk to them informally at the bar, or e-mail them for questions or to send them information. Every aspect of interaction with a 'real' client is possible during Making The Sale."
Participant Rens Burghgraaff, Project Consultant Sika NL: "It’s all about building relationships. Not just at a meeting with a stakeholder, but during every interaction. At other courses, the learning stopped after I left the room. In this programme, that’s actually where the real learning starts. Now I am much more aware of my own role in building relationships with clients. Staying open for signals at all time really helps me to deepen the connection."
Dean, who was one of the facilitators himself: "It’s not easy to find simulators who can take on this role. They need to have business sense, understand the storyline and speak the language of the megaproject to be credible. Most importantly, they need to have understanding of the objectives and the learning principles behind the programme. We are not looking for scripted actors; we need simulators who improvise based upon cause and effect interactions and have the capacity to stay in character for the duration of the programme. Schouten’s extensive international network enables us to find great teams of simulators in multiple languages."
The simulation begins very early in the programme. Instead of being given a paper-based case study for reading and analysis, participants watch a video. They observe a five-member Construction Consortium discussing their new megaproject: Creighton Commons - a revitalisation of a waterfront community. The Consortium discusses the project, its vision, its challenges, and signals its need for the right suppliers. And … Sika could clearly become a significant supplier for multiple applications in this megaproject.
The group is divided into three cross-selling sales teams (5-6 people per team). The participants first meet with the client stakeholders who explain their needs. They want to work with a company that doesn’t only supply products and added value, but one that builds lasting, trusted relationships. The teams split up and determine a strategy for their meeting with one of the stakeholders. Who will attend and lead the meeting? What questions do they have and how will they start building the relationship? After the meeting, the team reflects on what went well and what needs to be improved.
On the second day, participants evaluate their personal learning goals using Insights Discovery Profiles. They also learn how they can use this tool to improve sales effectiveness. After reviewing their strategy, they are ready for the next two client meetings. In the afternoon, the teams generate their own process in how to handle objections. A third round of strategy, meeting and team retrospection follows. The teams have now met all stakeholders and prepare their final pitches.
Dean: "On day three, a small stage is set up to change the room dynamics, as the three teams pitch separately for the client. After the pitches, the Consortium makes a decision whether Sika has made the shortlist or not. Afterwards, the simulators step out of their role, and they help debrief the programme regarding the rationale for selecting Sika or not. Finally, participants have the opportunity to receive personal feedback on their performance and skills. In addition, participants can ask questions about specific situations: “During our meeting you seemed upset when I mentioned ...” what happened? They receive valuable feedback on real communication situations which in real life they would probably never discover. They can also sign up for personal feedback from the simulators and facilitators in a 1-on-1 situation."
Participant David Hockley, Major Project Manager Sika UK, reflects, "How many times in your life do you get the opportunity to practice and immerse yourself in real time customer situations and interactions? Three days in which you build customer relationships, in a familiar and relevant environment. Probably never, right? My advice to anyone going on the Making the Sale training is, don’t be just a passenger on this great ride, but to let yourself be taken out of your comfort zone. When you immerse yourself in what the days bring, you will get the most out of the experience."
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