Frequently Asked Questions
Answers to commonly asked questions about sales training and sales coaching. An insight into how to use sales training to improve performance.
Sales training is a set of processes that seeks to improve the effectiveness of salespeople.
Sales training will typically focus on two aspects of the sales role. The first is sales skills and the second is the execution of the sales process.
Sales skills training is typically done in a face to face environment. This is because when we develop skills we only improve through one mechanism, and that is practice and feedback. It is therefore essential that skills are developed through practice sessions, where individuals have the opportunity to make errors, correct their mistakes and develop a range of skills that they feel comfortable in applying in front of a customer.
Sales process training can be done either face to face or through distance and E learning. Sales process training is ensuring that the sales people follow the right process to get to the right result in the most efficient manner. In retail sales this would mean following a process that engages with the customer, understands their requirements, recommends the right product and successfully concludes the transaction.
With more complex sales the process may take place over a period of months or even years. With these types of sales the process is more about forming the right steps to ensure we reach the right conclusion. These steps might typically be;
- Contact the right person
- Meet and understand needs and requirements
- Present a proposal that meets those requirements and that differentiates you from the competition
- Manage the follow up to the proposal through negotiation and resolving of concerns
- Conclude the implementation either through a contract or a set of service level agreements
Sales training is particularly important for those who are new to the sales profession. There are some absolute rights and wrongs when selling and inexperienced people can make mistakes that cost many companies a lot of money. Customers also have a clear expectation as to how they want to be treated and poor quality, high pressure selling erodes trust and drives customers away.
Training is also essential for any salesforce, to achieve the following things:
- To understand what works and what does not
- To agree the right type of activity that will produce results
- To know what skills are likely to work
- To understand the standards expected in the workplace
- To have an agreed set of skills that can be coached and developed
- To develop strategies that differentiate from the competition
- To know the best way to deal with the customer’s objections and concerns
- To develop the most effective way of presenting your products or services
- To agree the use of collateral and all the tools that support the sales operation
Sales training is available in a number of ways from a number of suppliers. The following is a brief list of the different ways in which sales training can be delivered:
- Through online learning, either by subscribing to a service to provide sales training content, or to have your own sales training content developed
- Using sales trainers or sales professionals to deliver training courses in house
- Engaging a company that can provide you with a professional sales training facilitator
- Engaging with a company that can customise and design training to meet your specific requirements
All sales training companies and sales training facilitators have an online presence. Nearly all have websites and Linkedin profiles
Anyone involved in dealing directly with customers would benefit from some form of sales training. Selling is not just about getting the deal, it is also about making sure that the customer is understood, that their needs are recognised and that you are providing the most appropriate products and services for them.
It is now recognised that sales training is not just for direct sales people. Many organisations have provided sales and service training to people in finance functions and in technical and service functions. These are people who deal regularly with customers and are probably in the best position to identify needs, pass on opportunities and resolve potential issues, all of which require good skills.
Sales training and development is normally the function within a business that is responsible for supporting sales management in driving sales performance. The sales training element normally consists of courses and online learning. The development part is more workplace focused and involves sales training professionals dealing with sales managers to help them improve the performance of their teams. This is normally done by providing management with the following components:
- Formal training in sales management techniques, with a focus on workplace evaluation and coaching
- Provision of workplace assessment tools, such a skill observation forms and performance analysis tools
- Data analysis tools, these normally analyse revenue, deal size, margin and also look at activity ratios, to develop standards and identify if anyone has development needs (those who are outside the ‘normative’ data)
The answer to this question varies depending on who you’re talking to. Many would say that sales training is any sales training course. We at Prosell would maintain that sales training is a combination of courses, coaching and workplace application support that brings about a measurable change in sales performance.
Good sales training is a process that covers the development, design, delivery and review of sales training and its effectiveness. Development is normally a gap analysis that seeks to identify the gap between the desired state – where you want to be in terms of both performance and skills, and where you are now. Design requires a professional instructional designer to create training that focuses on the needs identified to fill the gap and to create exercises and test and prove that the individuals now have a the knowledge and skills to perform more effectively. Delivery requires a professional sales trainer to take the participants through an interactive process where they explore, practice and improve the key skills needed to enhance performance. The review process seeks to answer three questions. Are they using the skills? Are they using the skills to the standard required? Are the skills making a difference to results?
The cost of training is typically provided in two ways. The first is a cost per participant to attend a training course. The second is normally a daily fee that he is calculated to cover the number of days needed to follow the correct process of development, design, delivery and review. With the advent of new technology there is also a cost model that involves an annual subscription to gain access to a variety of online sales training modules.
A sales training course typically focuses on the key skills needed for the sales people to be effective. Most sales training courses cover the fundamental skills needed in any sales role. These skills include making the initial approach to the customer, conducting a sales meeting or sales conversation, identifying customer needs and requirements, presenting your solution in line with those needs and requirements, concluding the sale and dealing with any objections or issues that may arise.
This is an interesting question in as much as many organisations seek to use sales training to overcome sales issues that are not skill or knowledge based. Quite often sales management abdicate the responsibility of better performance to the training department when the issue has nothing to do with the development of skills or knowledge. One of the fundamental skills needed by sales management is to determine whether a performance issue is going to be satisfied by training or whether it is more a management issue, such as attitude, work rate and application to the task. You need a sales training course if all the other elements of the sales operation are in place and the sales people need an uplift in their skills in order to deal with customers and effectively. Courses are generally appropriate either for new people or whether situation has changed, such as new products and services, or changes in the external market such as new competition, or new technology changing the customer’s requirements. A program is needed if more fundamental things need to be put in place, in line with our strategy, deployment and execution model.
A good sales training program allows an organisation to implement a process that successfully achieves its strategic sales goals in the marketplace. We would recommend the following process is used to implement a sales training program successfully.
- Strategy - What products and services are you wishing to sell and into what markets? What is the company’s value proposition that shows that you will be successful in selling into these markets? How easy is it to identify our target customers? How easy is it to gain access to these customers? What type of sales operation is likely to be most successful? (Telephone sales, Field sales, direct sales operation, indirect or channel sales?)
- Deployment - What resources do we have available to us to execute our sales strategy? How do we intend to deploy these resources? Many organisations break down their accounts by size, revenue and future opportunity. They allocate different resources to different categories of accounts. Field sales people for larger accounts, telephone sales for mid-size accounts and email and other contact strategies for small accounts. There is also the question of territories, to deploy people by geographical area or by account size and industry specialism?
- Execution - what support to the sales team need in order to be effective? This covers sales training courses, collateral and customer testimonials, technical support during the sale, website and ease of access to company and product information. Execution also includes the quality and skills of sales management. Do sales management have the skills and processes in place to support, review and improve the performance of their teams?
- Skill development is a process not an event
- The transfer of learning from classroom to workplace with sales training is traditionally poor.
- 86% of skills covered in a typical sales training course fail to transfer into the workplace
- A day or two of training does not make people expert, or in most cases even competent
- Real skill development takes place in the workplace, not the classroom
Sales training courses are important for inexperienced or new sales people, all those who are taking on a new sales role. Sales training courses have proven to be ineffective for trying to improve the performance of experience sales people, or trying to give experienced sales people new skills and ideas. For both of these situations, coaching is much more effective than training. See Prosell’s articles, Why Coach? and, Why Do Most Salespeople Fail?
There are four main reasons why much sales training fails to change performance or the bottom line results of an organisation.
Relevance - the problem with 90% of the sales training out there is that it is pre-prescribed content and all of the research tells us that the training is not properly customised, then it has very little chance of being implemented. As soon as a sales person thinks that they are covering subjects that are not relevant four beer industry, or they think that this content would not work with my customers, then they lose the desire to apply any of the skills.
Value - this is again an issue about customisation. If we do not customised sales training as a result of a proper skill analysis, then there is a very real danger that the content will add very little value. Either it will spend too much time on skills and subjects that people have already mastered, so they get bored and disinterested, or not enough time he spent on those things that the sales people currently find a real challenge, so they get frustrated that they are not improving in areas that they know are important to them.
Practice verses content – almost all of sales training courses make the mistake of too much content and not enough practice. We know that people develop skills through one mechanism, practice and feedback. At least 40 per cent of any sales training course should be practice and feedback. Sufficient analysis should be down so that we know the skills that need to be developed in order to improve performance. The training course should only cover these areas. Consider what world class coaches do to develop the skills of prime athletes. They focus on one skill at a time, practice it until the skill has improved and then move on to the next area. In contrast, sales training courses try and cram in as much content as possible in limited time, and leave little or no time for practice. The salesperson is then left with 100 different things to go away and try and implement having not practiced, and therefore not grasped, any of them. We then expect the salesperson to go and effectively apply all the new skills and ideas that have been covered. This is a ludicrous assumption and it is no wonder that sales training often confuses rather than improves.
Workplace follow up – all the research tells us that 86% of skills covered in a sales training course fails to transfer into the workplace. There are a number of reasons for this, but the most important one is that training is not following up by workplace observation, support, coaching and development. Real skill development takes place in the workplace not the classroom, and therefore the role of the sales manager or sales coach is more critical in improving performance than the role of the trainer alone.
If we assume that the purpose of sales training programs use to improve sales, then this is how we evaluate the training program. This is typically done in three stages;
- 1. Decide what measurable aspects of sales performance you wish to improve. These are normally hard measures, or KPI’s, such as revenue, margin, conversion, dollars per sale etc. We then agree where these measures are prior to any training or development.
- 2. Use a sales performance professional to identifying the skills and capabilities that have an impact on these hard measures. Develop a sales execution model with clear skills standards so that you can measure the application of the skills and capabilities in the workplace. These are called soft measures. This measurement is done through observation of the sales person with the customer. Again, use these measures to assess where people are prior to any training or development.
- 3. Use of both the hard and soft measures in the post-training environment to assess changes in skills and changes in results. This should typically be done over a reasonable period of time, about 2 to 3 months, and needs to be combined with coaching and workplace development.
Corporate sales training recognises that there are different skills and approaches needed when selling complex, or high value solutions into major corporations. Is also recognizes that we should make more effort with our larger and most significant opportunities. Corporate sales training is also known as multilevel selling, key account selling, major account selling and government and tender selling. Because this is typically a more complex sale, it is broken down into a number of segments.
- Research and planning
- Assessment of current position
- Assessment of competitors position
- Identification of all contacts and influencers
- Marketing support to build brand awareness
- Approach strategies for all levels of contact
- Use of our internal resources, including executives and technical experts
- Assessment and review of each meeting
- Being able to qualify opportunities in or out
- Assessment of the selection criteria and buying motivators for all levels
- Assessment of our value proposition versus the client’s selection criteria
- Assessment of the competition so value proposition
- Developing a proposal that includes a business case and our points of differentiation
- Maintaining contact through to decision making process
- Resolving issues and concerns, including price negotiation
- Concluding the sale and closely managing the implementation
- Problem orientation for anyone in our business who talks to the customer
- Regular reviews to support implementation and show we are meeting the customer’s requirements
Sales training for call centres is quite different to sales training for field based sales people. Because we have all the people in one place, with their supervisors, we can apply a much better training and development process. The process that has proven to be most effective in improving conversion rates and sales for call centres goes as follows;
- Complete skill analysis so we know what skills are most likely to lead to an improvement in results
- Break down the skills into small training components, typically no longer than 1 ½ hours
- Train supervisors in skill observation and coaching
- Run small, frequent training sessions allowing time for practice and feedback
- Provide regular workplace reminders of the skills standards expected
- Each time a new skill is covered, make sure there is workplace observation and feedback by supervisors
- Make sure people have reached the required standard with each skill before going into the next element of the training program
- Implement recognition and reward strategies for those who show improvement in both skills and results