by Logan Chierotti
According to a Sales Performance International White Paper called The Future of Sales Training, businesses in the United States spend more than five billion dollars annually on sales training. Yet sales training consistently delivers a questionable ROI to the organizations who employ it.
Then there are companies who refuse to use much more than an hour or two of basic product training. They then slap a script or a company flipbook into the hands of their representatives and say, “Go get them, tiger!” This situation leads to higher employee turnover and dissatisfaction. Some lucky or enterprising representatives might devise a method that works for them, but the rest will flee to opportunities where they feel confident about their ability to make money.
Clearly, there is a workable, beneficial happy medium between purchasing thousands of dollars of expensive sales training for your staff and the sink-or-swim approach. Here are tips for creating that happy medium.
Combine sales training with product training
Product training is important. Sales representatives cannot sell what they don’t understand. But it does not teach your sales representatives how to be successful. In fact, too much focus on product training can set sales representatives up for failure by getting them focused on features over solutions and value propositions.
Later, many organizations tack on sales training as a kind of afterthought. The Sales Blog argues for a more holistic approach.
“If you sell complex products, what’s wrong with training to do an effective needs analysis around that product? Instead of simply sharing the technology, the capabilities, the features, and the benefits, why not incorporate a training outcome that includes the most effective questions that might be asked of a prospective client? Can you teach questioning techniques with the product knowledge?
Why couldn’t you add a component to the product knowledge presentations that includes a case study, requiring the salespeople to analyze a prospective client’s needs and then make a 10-minute presentation as to how the product would solve the client’s business issue? Could that serve as the foundation for a lot of conversations you expect your salespeople to engage in with your clients later?
…Why not teach them enough about the product and combine it with a worksheet to calculate a client’s return on investment and teach and train them to present the value created instead of the price? We want them to sell value instead of price, right? In fact, we insist on it, don’t we?
Product knowledge isn’t enough by itself because our clients expect far more from us as salespeople. They expect us to have the business acumen necessary to help them achieve real business results. So, while we are teaching products, why not teach business acumen?”
Some organizations don’t think to move in this direction because they hire people, primarily, who have pre-existing sales experience. But there is a well-known phenomenon in sales. Some reps succeed wildly in one organization only to fail miserably when they move to another one. The problem is not necessarily product knowledge, but a knowledge of how to approach, sell to, and meet the objections of the new organization’s client base. Basic sales skills are basic sales skills, but every sales process is different. The decision makers are different, the way to get to those decision makers are different, and the concerns of those decision makers are different. Don’t assume that a sales representative will simply “figure things out” simply because he succeeded at his former post.
Train during the on-boarding process
Many of the companies who employ sales training inflict it upon reps who have been working with the company for some time. Their habits are already ingrained, and they’re already jaded. They aren’t going to change much in response to the training. If anything, training time becomes a nice break from the real work of generating business for the company. A typical rep will only remember, let alone implement, 13% of what he hears during the training course. You can’t get ROI out of something that nobody is actually using.
Everyone resists change. So your best bet is to create a program where there won’t be any change. Training should happen as part of the new-hire on-boarding process. Most new hires are excited and eager to succeed. They’re happy to learn how to do things “the company way,” especially if you hire for that trait. This means that they are more likely to adopt the methods that your training program is teaching.
Keep your training in-house
Don’t hire a sales training company.
They don’t know your company the way you do. They don’t know your customers the way you do. And they are ill-equipped to develop or reinforce a proven sales process that’s specific to your business.
An in-house training program that’s developed correctly can give you a team that’s uniformly trained in “the way we do things.” You can help them understand the 20 or so most common objections and questions that you receive. You can help them understand how to make the transition from the presentation to the conversation that closes the sale, and how to deliver the presentation in a way that’s natural and effective.
This in-house program should teach salespeople exactly what they should be doing all day. Many sales representatives come to the company with only a vague idea of which activities actually contribute to their success. On the surface, they are rewarded for just one activity—closing the sale—which may sap enthusiasm from necessary activities like cold calling. Your training program should help salespeople draw the links between these activities. Furthermore, they should be taught how to structure time where they are not actively in front of a prospect in a way that maximizes their success.
The Journal of Selling & Major Account Management calls this “role clarity.” Role clarity helps decrease turnover because it helps sales representatives understand what they need to do in order to be successful.
Role clarity is best described as understanding the sales job to the degree that a salesperson invests time in activities that result in higher payoff. Role clarity is maximized through proper training and, perhaps, more importantly, through clear and accurate instructions from the sales manager. In one study 65 percent of salespersons evaluated sales training as being “extremely” or “very” important to sales success (Reinfeld 2005). Too often, salespersons receive unclear instructions from their manager (Evans 2008) [emphasis added] and managers have been criticized for not providing appropriate employee feedback (Branham 2005).
Remember that training never stops
Training is an ongoing process. Your sales managers need to be prepared to position themselves as teachers and coaches who can strengthen skills and provide additional insights.
Every rep will have specific issues—the rep who needs a workable script for prospecting is different than the rep who isn’t meeting objectives adequately. A large group training session just won’t adequately cover these individual weaknesses. Identifying these issues and giving representatives the tools that they need to overcome them is an excellent way to build a stronger sales force. Too many managers trust that a few days of training alone can get the job done, and that is one of the reasons why sales training so often fails to live up to its expectations.
Logan Chierotti is an experienced entrepreneur and executive specializing in Internet marketing, sales, branding and business operations. Logan has over 10 years experience in online marketing and is a passionate entrepreneur that a track record of creating successful companies.