A friend of my mother’s, Dorothy, worked at the local department store in the 1960’s. She was required to complete a seven-week training program. Only after she successfully passed the rigors of training was she allowed to speak to a customer, and then only under close supervision. Once assigned to a trainer, she was taught techniques to interact with clients, respond to their needs and was required to learn at what stage of purchase (or buyer’s journey) did the customer reside:  just looking, comparing offers or ready to buy? Dorothy received sales skills training to respond to the client at each stage of the buyer’s journey. Key components to retaining a customer as a long-term shopper were to provide education, recommendations and gain an understanding of a client’s needs. Asking for purchase was never part of training. So, fast forward to 2017, what happened to this type of sales training?

In my experience, customer sales training has been replaced by learning the product’s “features and benefits and pricing” or more commonly known as F&B+P training. While you need to know your company’s product and pricing policy, greater importance is knowing how to establish engagement, move onto an understanding of need, transition to a conversation (or appointment) and ultimately solve the prospect’s challenge. If sales people are only trained on features and benefits, how can they uncover where a prospect is on their buyer’s journey? What happens when a salesperson, trained on features and benefits, engage with prospects who are only gathering information and not ready to buy? One more lost opportunity.

According to CSO Insight study in 2016, “the top three objectives (in order) for sales is to capture new accounts, increase sales effectiveness and optimize lead effectiveness.” The report goes on to state, 31.1%of firms had at least 75% of their sales force hit their personal goals, and 31.4% of companies met or exceeded 100% of their overall revenue target”.

Huh? Am I am reading this report correctly? Only one-third of surveyed sales teams hit or exceeded their goals? Would a trainer or sales coach help?

The CSO Insight report goes further to identify four different selling process levels; the highest being a Level 4 Dynamic, which includes [selling a] “process has been documented and exposed to salespeople, its use is reinforced/enforced, and metrics are constantly used.”

Sales people want training. But where will they learn this higher level of selling? Will they learn this from their sales manager of VP of sales? In a previous blog, I wrote, Errors Sales Managers Make (and don’t have to) most sales managers do not train, coach or mentor.

I found another report that states sales people want training,

In a 2011 study jointly conducted by ESR and the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD), 56% of salespeople say they receive no sales training, while 95.9% say continuous learning is critical to their success. (And) 61% of salespeople feel they need frameworks, approaches, and methodologies they can customize to effectively leverage the sales training they receive”.

Both the CSO Insights and ESR reports suggest training and sales coaching are wanted and needed to achieve (and exceed) forecast numbers. So why does team training get such a bad rap? How about the absence of continuous sales performance and improvement not being a fundamental part of all businesses?

In my opinion, there are three reasons.

  1. My experience by interviewing CEOs, owners, and managers alike, suggests they do not see a need for training beyond product “F&B+P” introductions. Their view is “if I trained them on product knowledge that’s enough trainingThey need to get out and sell.”
  2. Managed expectation. A CEO or owner considers cost, time away from the office and the lack of immediate improvement as three detrimental factors to any sales training program. If they do not see tangible results, then they conclude the training received was a loss. In reality, there is no way anyone can change behaviors in the few short hours of a seminar or half a day “boot camp.” If that were possible, the practice of Psychiatry would be vastly different!
  3. As mentioned in #2, managers only want short training Therefore, the trainer must focus on unique techniques like filling your pipeline, improving your closing averages or overcoming call reluctance. With any new skill training program, retention can only occur through time and practice. By Monday morning when the sales person tries a new technique, and it does not work, the sales person reverts to his old (and ineffective) behaviors.

If you are considering training for your sales team, make sure these components are part of the curriculum.

  1. Define the specific needs: training is not one size fits all. Best is to find one that can be customizable to provide value within your existing sales context. Build upon the sales team strengths by identifying and improving upon their individual needs.
  2. Build upon your selling system: this provides several opportunities. It allows sales (individual or team) to follow a known process and outcome. As a sales trainer, I can track the individual success and failure of the application so I know where I can focus my training. A typical sales process will bring clarity and commonality to the team. Too many new sales people are hired to learn the features, benefits, and pricing and do not know how to sell. They need context to complement the content.
  3. Use reinforcement: ever studied a foreign language? If so, you know the learning process requires skills practice, repetitive study, and reinforcement. Continuous improvement works best with incremental learning over an extended period.
  4. Use assessments: before I train, I need to know what each person’s competency and behavior tendencies are in relation to the team. I do this by using two assessments. One on behavior style and the other to match competencies of the individual and his/her performance. These evaluations provide insight into motivation, skills, and ability.
  5. Customize your training: integrate skills training on-site with the CRM, account acquisition, lead generation, and sales effectiveness goals already in place. No need to reinvent what already works. Build upon the system the sales team is comfortable using.

Training in this manner will deliver results far greater than learning features, benefits, and price. Relying ONLY on your F&B+P training model will prove ineffective over time. If your sales are falling, why not consider combining current product knowledge with a customized training program that increases your selling team’s effectiveness?  The results are in; sales people want training, and your business will not grow selling on features, benefits and cutting prices.

If you liked this blog, please share on social media. If you are a struggling business owner, sales manager or a sales professional looking to considering a sales coach, let’s talk. I am Will Harley, with Harley-Consulting, a growth services company. With over 20 years of business leadership experience, I leverage my experience to help owners achieve their goals. Sign up just to talk. Leave a comment; I promise to reply immediately.