In response to his article, Perfect the Elements of Your Selling that You Control, I asked Andy Paul, a leading sales acceleration author, speaker and coach, a series of questions of questions on sales training and continuous learning. Here’s Part 2 of that series.
You write that product knowledge and industry expertise is something REPS can control – but what can COMPANIES do to better support this?
AP: Companies need to do a better job of providing a structure for professional development and learning for sales. In most small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) sales training is treated as a one-time event. They’ll hire speakers or trainers to conduct a workshop or deliver a keynote at their annual offsite sales meeting and think that they’ve satisfied their responsibility for training.
I remember one senior executive I spoke with that described a particular problem that his sales team was having with securing service contract renewals from long-term customers. I pointed out that clearly his people weren’t having the necessary conversations at the right time with their customers about their future business objectives and how they could continue to help them achieve those. He protested “That can’t be what is happening. They are trained on how to do that. Last year, we spent three hours at our offsite covering that.” But, that is precisely what is not happening.
He spent money to bring an outside expert in to train his team and then didn’t follow through with reinforcement training, call monitoring and coaching to ensure that the training was understood and being put into practice by his team.
CEOs often talk about sales training being a waste of money. The issue isn’t the training itself. It has to do with how it is implemented.
If you’ve identified core skills and competencies that are essential for your sales team to master, then it isn’t enough just to train them. You have to put in place a program that tests their knowledge and abilities, and that provides hands-on training with coaches or mentors that show how it should be done.
I was visiting a company last week, where a new regional director of sales, Nick, had to make a cold call on a mock prospect. He wouldn’t be able to call on a customer until he received a passing grade. His direct manager, his peers in the sale team, as well as the CEO, were all listening and scoring the new hire on how well he did on the call (based on a list of 11 key attributes). After the call, Nick sat in a room where his performance was rigorously reviewed and feedback provided by all who listened in.
If it is important enough to train your sales team on any subject, then you need to follow through to ensure that they understood it. Testing in sales meetings, after a training class, is a good way to test and, if necessary, reinforce the information that was imparted in the training. Role-play situations, like the one described above, are also vital tools for testing the proficiency of your sales team.
Repetition & Coaching
Class room training is fine, but the lessons learned have to be reinforced through practice. This means that new skills have to be used with prospects. Management needs to be sure that territory assignments or targeted call lists provide a sufficient number of opportunities for repetition and learning. And, then, they need to monitor calls or go on “ride-alongs” to provide real-time coaching and reinforcement of classroom teachings. These should occur until the reps have become self-sufficient.
Sales reps learn most quickly by observing more experienced reps and managers in action with customers. For reps who don’t pass the test, or aren’t getting enough repetitions, they have to go out on sales calls with those who get it. They have to see how it works in practice with customers. And, then they have to do it themselves with the other person providing real-time coaching. The senior reps or managers who are most adept at selling have to become role models for the others.
For more sales tips, ideas and strategies from Andy, visit his blog, The Sales Fix.
For details on how Brainshark helps keep salespeople up-to-speed with fast, effective continuous learning, click here.
Andy Paul Q&A Series: