1. DON’T CONFUSE PRODUCT TRAINING WITH SALES TRAINING
One of the most popular complaints of buyers that we interview is the “walking product brochure” complaint. Prospects are very reluctant to buy from reps that provide no value beyond being able to recite product specs. The customer appreciates the product knowledge, but is dismayed by the salesperson’s product-centric approach versus a rep that tries to build a real partnership through a more consultative approach to selling. Product centric sales reps are prone to “sell fast” in that they move into product discussions much too quickly without gaining a true understanding of the customer’s specific needs and challenges.
Some sales organizations fail to realize that they actually condition their reps to be “walking product brochures” with their sales training programs. This is because the sales training is not really sales training at all. These situations are created when the company heavily weighs or completely focuses on product knowledge in the training program.
Do This Instead
Today’s buyers need trusted advisors, not walking product brochures. Trusted advisors are credible experts that add value by providing consultative help. They don’t sell by promoting and pushing what you have to offer. Instead, they focus on understanding the customer’s needs, identifying problems, and then positioning how your offerings can help.
The best performing reps are demand-side rather than supply-side oriented. With this mindset, they turn their attention to the customer’s business first, and then work to align their products or services to help their prospect solve a specific problem or achieve a particular business objective.
While product, company, and industry knowledge is essential, it’s just one side of the sales training equation. To turn your sales reps into trusted advisors they need to develop foundational sales skills. These skills include prospecting, sales call planning, asking questions to uncover needs, making effective presentations, handling objections, and maximizing account revenue. Also, don’t ignore some of the so-called “soft” skills essential to rep success, including effective time management, motivation, and selling ethics and professionalism.
Today’s fast changing sales environment also creates new capability requirements for reps. Sales professionals need quality training in the realities of today’s decision-makers, the increasingly complex buying process, and strategies for assessing the business issues of prospects.
2. DON’T TRAIN THROUGH A ONE TIME EVENT
According to neuroscientist David Rock, too many corporate training programs are “the mental equivalent of trying to eat a week of meals in a day.” In other words, the proverbial “drinking from a fire hose.”
The large majority of sales organizations routinely bring in their salespeople for live training sessions. These events are best characterized as one shot “paint jobs” that are meant to expose the salesforce to the new training content. In rare situations, these events may include a pre-read, but the primary focus is on the in-person 2 or 3 day experience.
Does this sound familiar? Is it how your company rolls-out training?
We challenge you to think of a single learning experience that achieves its goal in just one event. Playing the guitar, learning the game of golf, understanding algebra – all of these require learning over time and using a structured learning process.
So why do organizations treat sales training differently? It is simply unrealistic to assume that sales reps are going to adopt a new consultative selling approach to interacting with customers for instance, after just one training event.
Do This Instead
To increase the effectiveness of sales training and avoid Don’t #2, some of our intuitive understanding about learning needs to change.
The AGES model was derived from research into advanced neuroscience, specifically the way the brain learns and how it optimizes the formation of memory. In other words, this model is all about getting training to stick.
AGES is an acronym that stands for the key factors that drive long-term learning: Attention, Generation, Emotion, and Spacing.
Good sales training should drive focused attention, allow participants to generate their own learning through activities and reviews, and include emotion (often humor is a good emotion to incorporate).
Lastly, the AGES model emphasizes the need to spread learning over time instead of cramming everything into one long session. This is the AGES principle we see most frequently violated in sales training.
Concentrated learning, or massing large amounts of content in short periods of time, may actually increase short-term performance. This is why most learners often rate training events highly on exit surveys. However, it is well documented that long-term performance gains are poor from event-based training alone.
3. DON’T FORGET YOUR SALES MANAGERS
Few sales organizations understand an irrefutable principle of influencing sales rep behavior. This principle is simple: There is no greater influence on a sales rep’s behavior change than the front-line sales manager. Think about it, who else spends the most time observing the behaviors of reps? And who else has the greatest pull in guiding reps to change behaviors?
Research by The Brevet Group and others overwhelmingly supports the idea that the sales manager is the lynchpin in sales rep behavior modification. Studies have shown this to be true in situations involving the salesforce adopting new products, using new administrative procedures, becoming more ethical, and most importantly, in changing their approach to customer interactions.
Despite this, organizations continue to perpetuate Don’t #3 by ignoring the essential role that the sales manager plays in effective sales training. This is not about expecting the sales manager to carry all the responsibility for sales training. Rather, this is about acknowledging and equipping managers to reinforce the key concepts taught in the training.
In addition, few sales teams do a good enough job actually training their sales managers to be effective coaches. Sure, these folks may be excellent reps and they may have considerable product knowledge.
But without training in the fundamentals of good sales coaching, they will not be effective. For those who do provide basic sales manager training, too often it does not involve a systematic coaching framework nor does it cover the foundational selling skills being trained to their reps.
Do This Instead
Formal, structured sales training will not achieve its full potential if isn’t bolstered by strong reinforcement in the field. This reinforcement falls on the manager in his or her role.
A well-designed sales training program provides managers with the process and tools they need to coach the specific concepts that reps will learn in their training program.
Here are some practical things you can do to avoid the all too common Don’t #3:
- Consider sequencing the sales rep training so that managers come through the program before reps. In this way, managers gain a basic understanding of what the reps will be taught. This is also an opportunity to gain their feedback on the rep training. Ultimately, this allows managers to feel like they have had input on shaping the rep training, which increases the odds that the managers will “buy into” the training initiative.
- Following the sales training overview, give managers techniques and exercises that they can use to reinforce sales rep learning. An effective strategy is developing Monday Morning Meeting guides that serve as mini-lesson plans that managers can use in informal meetings with their teams.
- Use role-plays to give managers practice in coaching reps around common challenges at different stages in their careers. Connect these interventions to key selling skill concepts covered in the training.
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