Training Your Salespeople

Selling is a craft. Your skill is a direct result of training and experience. 

Selling is a craft. Your skill is a direct result of training and experience. 

Success in sales used to be based on personality more than substance. Gone are the days where carrying a box of donuts in the door will get you a sale. Consultative sales became the new norm, and in fact the most successful salespeople now do more than just solve customer’s problems. They are able to anticipate a customer’s problem before it occurs, relying heavily on a deep understanding of their customer’s business and extensive product knowledge.

Sales training can increase revenue, increase the profitability of closed sales, and increase market share. Training also improves employee satisfaction and engagement and can help with recruitment and retention.

Effective Sales Managers are great leaders. Although a Sales Manager is responsible for the structure of the sales force (i.e. nature of the sales positions, allocation of territories, establishing budgets), the Sales Manager is also responsible to get the greatest performance out of each salesperson. As Sales Manager, you are responsible to help your staff develop the knowledge and skills required to do their job. The following are some of the considerations that often emerge when I help a company design a training program.

Developing training content

Training usually falls into two categories

·      General training for all staff; and,

·      Employee-specific training that is based on that employee’s skill gaps.

For general training, companies typically have a standard training program for new hires and an ongoing training program for all staff. For employee-specific training, the performance appraisal process often identifies areas for improvement.

The categories of information in the training program can be diverse. You have to know aspects of your industry such as background on competitors and relevant trends. You also have to know your customer, such as which potential customers are part of your target market and how those customers buy. Company policies and procedures as well as product or service knowledge is also commonly part of the training program.

Obviously, sales skills are important. Salespeople need to know how to plan their effort, and how to manage communication with potential customers. This might include planning a sales-call and follow up. It might also include conversation skills related to managing the dialogue with a customer. Or it could involve the soft skills related to negotiation or even training on price theory.

The way you train

Most companies choose multiple methods of training, based on the type of information that must be conveyed and the learning styles of the salespeople involved. The following are a few common methods used:

·      Product or Service Knowledge. For salespeople to truly understand what they are selling, they need hands-on knowledge of the product or service. Have salespeople spend a day in a manufacturing facility with staff that build the product or in the field with staff that deliver the service.

·      Peer Sales Calls. Have salespeople shadow each other during sales calls. People will learn from others who have a different way of interacting with customers.

·      Resource Materials. Use a variety of books, podcasts, seminars and webinars. Exposure to a variety of perspectives will help people understand the style and techniques that work best for them.

·      Industry Events. People learn subtleties about their industry from trade shows and supplier information sessions.

·      One-On-One Coaching. A closed door, private, and in-depth dialogue with a salesperson helps ensure training material is related directly to that person’s situation. 

·      Sales Meetings. Even in smaller companies where the salespeople work together regularly, these meetings help by airing concerns, addressing sensitive issues, providing a forum for training sessions, and making sure people are on the same page.

·      Off-Site Training. A day away from the office can help people leave the activity of servicing customers behind and focus on a certain training topic.

·      Use An Outside Voice. Compliment the information you provide directly to your salespeople with a guest speaker or trainer.

The role of coaching & evaluation

Coaching is the process of working one-on-one to help a salesperson learn and develop, with the intent to meet his or her individual goals. Coaching is part of the training process. People can learn skills from courses and books, but the coaching experience allows for discussions about the material in the context of the salesperson’s job and allows for a rich discussion about how that specific salesperson can change his or her own behavior.

Provide feedback on how well salespeople are learning from your company’s training program. Be specific. Are you measuring their process (i.e. number of training videos they have watched) or on results (i.e. how they have scored on an exam based on a training video)? Give people feedback early in the process, and frequently throughout the year. If performance is lacking, have a candid conversation about why.

The training mindset

It can be difficult for someone who has performed well as a salesperson to become a Sales Manager. You are no longer responsible to close the sale. Your job is to help someone else learn to be effective. A big mistake is slipping into the mode of showing the new recruit how it’s done. You’re not there to show off; people learn by doing. They learn from making mistakes, understanding what they could have done differently, and making adjustments. The sooner you can adopt a training mindset, the sooner you will help your people develop.

To keep your salespeople inspired and focused on producing results, you have to create an environment where every team member desires success and where continuous improvement is viewed as a contributing factor to the team’s success. By building a sales culture where training and education is valued, you send a message that success matters and that everyone is able to improve and develop.

An effective way of building this culture is to ensure every salesperson participates and benefits from training, including the company’s highest performers. The best salespeople are always trying to learn, and if your training program is genuinely valuable they will embrace it whole-heartedly. To ensure training is valuable, ask the salesperson what they need from you to increase sales. Experienced salespeople are generally self-aware and will know where they need help.

Share best practices to foster engagement. Recognize what is working and share these insights with others. For example, if one salesperson had success reducing a customer’s sales cycle time then have that person share his or her approach with other members of the sales team.  

There are many technological and social trends impacting the role of marketing and sales. But for most companies, personal selling still does the heavy lifting when it comes to generating revenue. An effective sales training program can have a positive impact on a company’s performance.