The selling environment has changed dramatically during the past few years. Customers and prospects have less time and money to spend, are more distracted, and their buying processes have become increasingly complex. Salespeople, who have historically been successful depending on “right brain” attributes — such as relying on instinct and acting on hunches — are now faced with a sales environment that requires “left brain” solutions — such as following a defined process, structured thinking and logical problem solving.
“Many people don’t understand the demands and pressures on salespeople,” said Robert Kear, chief marketing officer and partner at sales training provider Sales Performance International. “It’s the most visible and measurable job in the workplace. The outcome of your performance is out there every day, every week, for everyone to see. Not many people would be willing to work under those circumstances.”
Unfortunately, even when they have much to gain from a learning offering, salespeople can be among the least receptive to it. Over the years, they’ve been subjected to multi-day programs, which they perceive as time away from income-generating opportunities; sudden, new approaches that quickly gain and then lose organizational support; and an abundance of product training, which is important, but doesn’t address their real challenges.
According to Dave Kurlan, founder and CEO of global sales development firm Kurlan & Associates, training salespeople requires preparation to be effective. “Before training can work, you must have other things in place, such as sales process, architecture and pipeline metrics,” he said. “The sales management team must be able to coach to the methodology and individual weaknesses.”
Rick Page, founder and CEO of sales training provider The Complex Sale, agreed that an established sales process and coaching to that process are important, but stressed reinforcement from any sales management team as well. “We focus a lot on what happens before and after training, so it sticks,” Page said. “The salespeople have to make a habit out of it. When they figure out it isn’t going away, it can become part of their DNA.”
The following six practices can help ensure sales training directly affects a sales team’s performance:
1. Start with the buying process. “Find out how the customer buys,” Page said. “Find all the activities and questions that need to be asked, the information and everything that the salesperson must know. That will back you into the competencies, knowledge, attributes and behaviors that the salesperson needs.”
2. See things from the customer’s point of view. “That’s what the salesperson deals with every day,” said Martyn Lewis, founder of virtual sales training developer 3g Selling.
3. Understand the sales strategy. “If you don’t have a good grasp of that, you won’t have the ability to reach out and connect to the sales organization,” Kear said. “Trainers have to get wired into sales strategy, methodology, philosophy and what the processes look like.”
4. Grab their attention. “If you can do that, salespeople are very receptive,” Lewis said. “It’s not that they don’t want to learn; it’s that they don’t want to waste their time. If you’re going to train salespeople, you’d better have something that matches their world.” Toward that end, 3g Selling structures and delivers its training much like TV and radio programs, building each point in 15-second increments.
“Our first hour is dedicated to getting the veterans to uncross their arms,” Page said. “Training has to be relevant, fast-moving and engaging. We use case studies and we work actual deals in class. We go no more than 20 to 30 minutes without an exercise or live account work.”
5. Make sure it’s relevant. “We need to ensure that the training is relevant to them — not [just] to the organization or group,” Lewis said. Sales training should help people “change how they sell, get over a hurdle, get to their goals faster; they have to see how it’s going to help them.”
6. Measure, measure, measure. “The learning department has to know how to measure and assess [training effectiveness],” Page said.
When a training program for salespeople reflects the company’s sales process and strategy, considers the needs and attributes of the sales force and includes a well-defined, ongoing reinforcement and measurement program, it is much more likely to help improve the company’s sales performance over the long haul than traditional training approaches.
Dave Stein is CEO and founder of sales training consultancy ES Research Group. He can be reached at editor@CLOmedia.com.