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Sales Training

As important as sales meetings are, they cannot take the place of a comprehensive sales training program. Continuous sales training will keep your salespeople sharp and at the top of their game. Considering the value of a strong sales force, investing here will pay off more directly than any place else.

Some of the areas you may wish to train your salespeople in are…

Technical training — Is technical know-how useful for your salespeople? If so, how knowledgeable or skilful are they? What skills do your employees need to learn or upgrade? If you sell men’s suits, for example, perhaps your salespeople should be able to conduct a custom fitting.

Product and service knowledge — How well do your sales people know your products and services? Can they answer all of your prospects questions? Do they understand which products can be sold together and why (for example, cross-selling one product with another)? Can they easily identify the best products for your customers’ needs? Can they recommend maintenance procedures or ways to use your products more efficiently?

Communication and Public speaking — Communication is at the core of sales. In general, the more training you provide here the better, but it is also important to be specific. If your salespeople spend a fair amount of time on the telephone, for example, focus their training on the effectiveness of their telephone skills.

Interaction Skills — Sales are all about building relationships and relationships are forged through personal interaction. People like to do business with people they like, so the more likeable your salespeople are, the more business they will eventually bring in. Fortunately, social interaction skills can be improved through training.

As you’ll remember from the “Marketing” book, your salespeople must understand the psychographic profile of your Target Market. These are the prospects they are most likely to come into contact with; so understanding their needs is paramount.

Time management — Time management skills are useful for everyone in your business (including you), but they are especially important for salespeople who are free to structure their working days as they see fit. Without a game plan, we more easily fall victim to that great time waster, procrastination. With a game plan, we can take control of our time and move forward with purpose.

There are number of good time-management programs and systems you can introduce your employees to, including the one in Leadership, but the most important thing is that they use something. Time is a salesperson’s most precious commodity so they must learn to use it as efficiently as possible.

Identify Your Training Needs

There are all sorts of sales training courses and sales experts available, but before you even start to look, you’ll want to identify your needs. This will make it possible for you to cut through the clutter to find the best solutions to those needs.

Recently, a friend of mine told me of her department store nightmare. A well-known department store recently advertised a special sale on its new top-of-the-line vacuum cleaners. My friend, Mary, called to buy one. The salesclerk had never heard of the product and was unaware of the sale. The clerk’s boss suggested that Mary call another branch to find the item, but refused to do the calling for her on the grounds that he was “too busy.” Mary called the customer service department, where a representative offered to order the vacuum cleaner, but said it would have to be picked up at a distant warehouse. Mary then asked to speak to the store manager, who said he would look into it and get right back to her. He never called back. Four days later, a salesclerk from the same store called Mary independently to inquire whether she might be interested in a vacuum cleaner. Needless to say she has not gone back to that department store since.

The following process will help you identify the general training needs of your salespeople as a group and the specific training needs of your individual sales people

  1. Areas of competency — List the areas of competency required by your salespeople. In other words, what must your salespeople be good at in order to be outstanding at their jobs? For example, must they understand how your products integrate with each other? Must they be strong on the telephone? Use your sales training notes above as your guide.

  2. Minimum standards — On the same form, identify minimum standards for each of these areas. For example, every salesperson must be able to recommend the best mixture of products for each basic customer type.

  3. Valuation — Finally, give your sales force a score based on their current abilities in each of these areas of competency. Create the scale in the same way you have done for your qualitative Strategic Indicators.

Areas of CompetencyMinimum StandardsValuation
Product Knowledge90%80%
  1. Based on the chart you built above, determine what your salespeople need in terms of training. In other words, what is the general difference between where your salespeople are now and where they need to be? This information will be used for training your salespeople as a group.

  2. Next, use the same list of competencies to identify the individual strengths and weaknesses of your salespeople. Give each salesperson a score out of 10 just as you did for your entire sales force above.

Rate each of your salespeople. Create individual plans for each of your employees based on their scores. If this is impractical due to the size of your company, have this done at the department level by your managers.

Sales Training System

Next, put these training programs into action by designing your training systems. You may need systems that will allow your salespeople to request special training, you may need systems that will identify your training needs on an annual basis, and you may need systems to perform the actual training itself. You can find more information on training systems in general in Management: People.

As you have done before, design a system to ensure that your salespeople receive the necessary training. Be sure to consider the training needs of your Sales Managers as well.

In this chapter you should have designed, shared, and made a plan to review your:

  • Specific sales targets for the year.
  • Compensation plan for your salespeople.
  • Work listings of your salespeople, including your Sales Manager.
  • Salesperson profile for your business.
  • Sales Meeting System.
  • Sales Training System.