Many small businesses outsource the task of sales staff training, while others rely on in-house veterans to cultivate the next generation of salespeople. Whichever approach you take, certain fundamental elements of sales training should always be included.
Sure, new sales techniques, fashionable trends and online courses are always cropping up. Yet without a clear understanding of basic principles, your sales team may end up being of the 'all hat, no cattle' persuasion.
Here is a short list of essential actions to include in your sales training efforts:
Cultivate a winning attitude. Is 'attitude' something a salesperson comes by naturally, or can it be 'trained'? The jury is still out on this one, but sales experts contend a winning attitude is a key ingredient in the makeup of any successful salesperson.
“What you believe is one of the biggest predictors of what you will accomplish,” says sales guru Gavin Ingham.
Know your product, inside and out. It may be possible to close a deal without a thorough understanding of what you’re selling, but successful examples are few and far between. In-depth knowledge of a product leads to more strategic answers to questions and objections, as well as insights into what specific product details offer the most value to prospective clients.
Not only does a comprehensive grasp of the product make a salesperson better prepared, it boosts his/her confidence during the all-important conversation with a prospect.
Keep training short and focused. While there is a great deal of information that might be useful in the sales training process, there is also a distinct risk of overtraining your sales team. They’re no different than anyone else in any field of business; bombard employees with too much information and they’ll end up retaining only a fraction of what they’ve “learned.”
A more effective approach stresses short, focused training sessions, accompanied by frequent email or text reminders of key points salespeople can take with them into the field.
Offer specific feedback as part of field training. Speaking of the field, trainers and managers can deliver exceptional value when they listen to sales calls and analyse a salesperson’s real-time performance with prospects. Direct feedback — ideally provided within a matter of hours of the sales call — is more likely to stick with salespeople, as opposed to protracted training sessions in a closed environment.
Teach the art of asking questions. Every salesperson in training should understand that the sales conversation is never about him/her. Interactions with prospects only bear fruit if the salesperson is asking questions, digging at what the client wants and needs, moving toward providing a solution to problems. That won’t happen if the salesperson does all the talking.
Similarly, the art of asking the right questions will facilitate closing the deal at the appropriate moment. Assess each salesperson’s ability to ask productive questions and offer guidance in this discipline, wherever needed.
Nurture the art of listening. Asking the right questions is the necessary first step; what is next is listening closely to the answers. Sales training should emphasize listening both to what prospects say and what they don’t say. “Listen to genuinely understand,” Gavin Ingham notes. “Listen without an agenda.”
Focus on value. By now, it should be clear that a sales conversation without value almost always leads to failure. A product’s many bells and whistles only distract the prospect if the salesperson doesn’t pave the way to a solution to his/her problem. Training should hammer home the critical importance of adding value to prospects, each and every time.
Bring in a 'battle-tested' veteran. Nothing beats the wisdom and experience of a sales executive with demonstrated abilities to organise and train a sales team. Companies often opt for an interim VP of Sales to 'swoop in' and train sales reps to improve their overall effectiveness and close rates. Being exposed to fresh methodologies and changes in best practices can result in a sales team equipped with new ideas and new ways of thinking about sales.
Training that emphasises the basics — coupled with real-time analysis and insights from trainers — will take your company’s sales efforts to the next level.
By Brian O’Neil, CEO & President, Sales Empowerment Group. Brian and Sales Empowerment Group have helped the fastest growing, most innovative businesses and Fortune 500 with sales recruiting, sales consulting, sales training, inside sales and a unique program called 'The Interim VP of Sales Program.' Brian is also the author of three books available on Amazon.