Training Top 125 Best Practice: Consultative Selling for Sales and Marketing at BNSF Railway Co.
The railway industry has been challenged with lower volumes and an increasingly competitive supply chain environment. BNSF Railway Co.’s Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) and C-suite Marketing executives partnered with the Training team to prepare sales and marketing employees for this challenge. The goal was to institutionalize a sales training program—creating a common BNSF sales platform with business unit-specific approaches. Objectives included:
- Build on BNSF’s strong customer relationships and strengthen its reputation as a trusted business partner.
- Develop new employees while providing consistency in customer interactions.
- Equip teams with knowledge and skills to manage complex sales situations.
- Proactively adjust the company’s approach to market and business realities.
The resulting sales training program consists of two parts:
1. Consultative Selling Skills Training (two days): Prepares salespeople to intentionally facilitate the sales meeting. The Consultative Selling framework teaches Six Key Stages:
- Connecting with Customers
- Understanding the Business Need
- Recommending the Solution
- Asking for a Commitment
- Implementing Action Steps.
Supporting the framework are the Six Critical Skills:
BNSF wanted this initiative to become a new way of life, not just a one-time event. With that goal, the CMO was a visible sponsor with written communication and verbal support at Marketing Town Hall presentations, plus his video message was incorporated into each class. The Marketing VPs opened and closed each session to dialogue about the program, and share their own training experience and plans to implement. Additionally, post-training assessments and reinforcement, in a gamification format, provided a competitive format for post-program learning.
2. Developmental Sales Coaching (one day): Supports sales managers in achieving results through their team, while encouraging accountability for their own development. The approach shifts the manager’s focus from boss to coach, using developmental versus evaluative coaching. Leaders coach by asking questions, instead of being prescriptive/directive. Specifically, sales managers coach in a way consistent with the sales approach taught in the Consultative Selling Skills program—essentially modeling the same skills.
- Plan and prepare for coaching conversations.
- Empower salespeople by asking questions that encourage them to self-assess, identify obstacles, and actively engage in problem-solving and action-planning.
- Give balanced, behavioral feedback salespeople readily can act upon.
In 2016, 315 employees participated in these programs. Five business units attended a tailored session whereby examples and sales situations were relevant to the sales challenges they face. Results include:
- Six months after training launch, sales team members entered 682 sales call planners against 1,723 documented meetings in Salesforce—a 39.5 percent utilization rate. Utilization continued to increase with 43.4 percent utilization in the first half of 2017.
- In 2015, 92 percent of customers surveyed said they had an overall positive experience with BNSF salespeople. From 2016 to present, this statistic improved to 98.6 percent.
- Proficiency assessments showed a 24-point improvement, representing a 40 percent increase between immediate post-classroom retention and 90-day post-training mastery.
- Salespeople with stronger proficiencies in key skill areas achieved 2.3 percent higher revenue performance in 2016 than those with weaker skills as measured by the pre- and post-training assessments.
- Approximately 24 percent of the current BNSF customer base that did not have shipments in 2015 began shipping with BNSF in 2016.
- Customer satisfaction with BNSF overall performance compared to other transportation providers increased by 15 percent in 2016 compared to 2015.
- 32.3 percent of existing customers increased their shipments from 2015 to 2016.
- 1,226 new customers were added in 2016.
With these results, BNSF’s Marketing leadership decided to expand the sales and marketing training with the same employees and expanded audiences in both 2017 and 2018.