The After Action Review and Your Sales Team:
A Great Match
By Bryan Feller
The problem with many sales organizations is not laziness, lack or
selling skills or the myriad of other issues CEOs point to when
sales are down. The problem with most sales organizations is the
inability to learn from experience. Sales people are knowledge
workers. Knowledge is their most valuable asset. Yet most sales
organizations have no viable way to harness or exploit the knowledge
gained everyday from their salespeople.
Good knowledge management (KM) holds the key to breakthrough
performance for many sales teams, however, KM has had mixed reviews
by managers ever since it came on the management scene. Managers
love it and hate it. They love it
because it offers easy-to-see benefits by leveraging what’s in
peoples’ heads. They hate it, because most KM initiatives are
expensive and take too much time to start showing results.
Without question, leveraging knowledge is a powerful performance
improvement tactic. The faster you can capture information, turn
that information into knowledge, and get that knowledge into the
hands of the people who can use it in meaningful ways, the faster
you will see results.
What’s needed is a “quick and dirty” KM approach that is easy to
implement and that doesn’t require complex systems or processes.
A quick and dirty KM program for a sales organization has two parts:
a technical part and a people part. The technical part is a simple,
accessible, and easy to use web-based information repository. The
people part of the program is the After Action Review, or AAR. This
tool can be the single most important sales performance enhancer
that you implement.
The US Army first developed the “After Action Review” as a learning
methodology in the 1970’s. Its purpose was to create a structured
means to facilitate day-to-day learning from combat training
exercises. The reasons for success or failure in combat training
exercises are often not clear. AARs were designed to tease out the
learnings from such exercises.
After Action Reviews are now used by many companies in a number of
ways. When conducted properly, the AAR serves as a post-event
debrief that generates specific actionable recommendations (SARs)
for immediate use. It also creates an environment in which sales
people can identify real mistakes, learn from them, and make
immediate adjustments, rather than get bogged down in blaming the
market, the prospect, or the competition.
In a business setting, an AAR is a team-only discussion after an
event or activity—to start with, perhaps, a sales call,
presentation, or phone meeting. As the team becomes adept at
conducting and leveraging their AARs, their use can extend to larger
activities such as lead generation events, networking initiatives,
and trade show exhibit participation.
The purpose of the AAR is to identify one or two specific actionable
recommendations (SARs) focused on improvement that can be acted upon
immediately. Key characteristics of the session are:
Short-term, in a small group
By the team, for the team
Takes about 15 minutes
Makes learning conscious
Can make learning explicit
An AAR consists of four deceptively simple questions asked in
The only acceptable climate for an AAR is one of openness and
commitment to learning. The objective is to improve performance, not
assign blame for something that isn’t working. AARs are not
critiques; more important, they are not personal performance
evaluations or even a part of the evaluation process. Nothing kills
an AAR effort more quickly than using it for any kind of management
Each member of the discussion is on an equal footing, with one
member assigned the role of facilitator. The facilitator’s job is
to keep the conversation factual and free of blame, and to present
supporting questions (specifically, “whys” and “hows”) to capture
more information under each main heading. The manager or leader of
the team should not be present if their participation will inhibit
honest or open communication. In these cases, the facilitator can
provide the manager with a summary of the AAR that has been shared
with all team members beforehand.
The final result of an AAR is the identification of SARs; that is,
specific statements of actions to take to improve the outcome of the
next similar event or activity. Other than instances where a manager
summary is written, AARs are not usually formally captured in
written form. During the discussion, each member takes notes.
However, this is not written in stone; you can elect to have a
written record of AAR activities on the team’s online system, with
proven SARs converted to best practices and included in the Sales
KM doesn’t have to be complex and expensive. By simply putting AARs
into place, you can implement a quick, dirty, and effective KM
component to your sales team for far less time and trouble than any
packaged KM solutions currently on the market. Not only that, you
will see far more meaningful results from a quick and dirty KM
initiative than any training program you have considered trying.
When you combine the technical and people parts of a quick and dirty
KM system, the result is greater than the sum of the two parts. In
addition to providing a repository for sales and business
intelligence, your online repository can hold the results of AARs,
so that as SARs arise from the debrief process, they can be recorded
and then refined as they go through further AAR processes.
Over time, as team members comment on SARs recorded on the site and
their results in the field, some of these learnings will evolve into
best practices. When best practices are noted, codifying them into
your department’s Sales Standards is the next step in performance
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