How to Equip Your Sales Reps for Success

February 26, 2010 at 5:48 pm | Posted in Adrian Miller Sales Training, entrepreneurship, Marketing, sales, Sales & Technology, Sales Training, small business | 1 Comment
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It is clearly known that high turnover in a sales-focused organization is bad.  It is not clearly known, however, why this turnover is happening.  The typical – and often, incorrect — view is that the problem lies at the recruitment or management level. In reality, the problem usually lies between the two: training.

Training sales reps is not an option; it is essential for both individual and organizational success.  When implemented effectively, it also significantly reduces turnover and improves loyalty and morale; all of which is good for the bottom-line.  Here are the five core elements of a complete sales rep training program:

Preparation

Training starts long before the workshops, the manuals and the coaching.  It starts with preparation.  Organizations must look at the office environment in which they are going to locate their new sales rep, and ensure that it is both professional and suited to the job at hand.

For example, if the sales rep will be doing a lot of telephone prospecting, then organizations must provide a space that is suitably quiet and free from distractions. Or, if the sales rep will be frequently out in the field, then a small workstation may suffice.  “Virtual” sales reps must also be provided with the necessary technology to ensure their success.

A core human need is to feel welcomed and respected.  When sales reps see that their new employer has appropriately prepared for their arrival, they feel confidently positioned to succeed.

Sales Training

Sales training is vital to sales reps’ success. Whether you hire “fresh out of college” or seasoned veterans with years of experience, sales training must be an ongoing initiative.

There are three key levels of sales training; all of them are equally important and, as mentioned, essential.  We can call the first level “Product/Service Awareness”, the second level “Competitive Advantage” and the second level “Prospecting.

Product/Service Awareness training focuses on the product, service or both that is being sold.  This training goes far beyond simply knowing details, specifications and features. Sales reps of all experience levels must clearly and deeply understand what it is that they’re selling, and just as importantly: why the sale is going to improve their customer’s life.

This latter aspect – “customer improvement” is so totally necessary for success that its importance cannot be emphasized strongly enough.  At the most fundamental level, sales is about solving problems, and making things better then they would be without the sale.  Sales reps must thoroughly understand how this fundamental fact of selling fits into their customer’s life and experience.  Having a “great” product or service is not enough!  That “greatness” must improve the customer’s situation; it must help them solve a meaningful problem.

Naturally, customers will have different situations; they will have different problems and needs.  Sales reps must be trained on how to identify and adjust their sales effort to respond to these differences.  The only way that they can make this adjustment is to have comprehensive Product/Service Awareness training.

The second level of training, Competitive Advantage, focuses on how a product or service is “positioned” in the overall marketplace; and hence, where it is positioned on a customer’s “radar screen” of options.  Competitive Advantage training focuses on SWOT: strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (particularly threats target market growth).  It also focuses on the various ways that value can be added to enhance a prospect’s real or perceived benefit.  Remember: these benefits need not be financial; they can be any solution, of any kind, that is relevant and meaningful to prospects.

The third level of training, Prospecting, focuses – unsurprisingly — on the prospect. Sales reps need to know how to develop an existing prospect base, and to ensure that all opportunities are exploited so that no business is left on the table – because the competition will certainly snatch that up!  Sales reps also must understand the fine art of “probing”, and to know when it is time to close the sale.  It is particularly important to note that even seasoned sales reps need “prospecting” training.  What may have worked well in one industry will not work in another industry.

Sales Technology

Sales technology training is also essential.  All sales reps should be very well versed in Contact Management software, and all mobile communication tools (such as PDA).

Also, you should expect and budget for providing extra technology training for novice sales reps. Novices may need more extensive computer training on CRM programs, using Outlook, and other types of software. Those with more experience will often join an organization with a more solid knowledge about office technology and tools. However, don’t assume that anyone, seasoned or inexperienced, knows how to use all of the technology. Offer the necessary training to everyone.

Sales Leads

As with sales training, organizations also tend to differ on how, if at all, they provide leads to new sales reps. Some organizations believe that reps should build a lead base through their own efforts, while other organizations provide tools to facilitate lead gathering.

Many larger organizations use inside sales reps or telemarketers to screen and qualify prospects. In these firms, sales reps are then often given dated and timed appointments for follow-up. These organizations also tend to promote their inside sales/telemarketing reps to entry-level salespeople.

The benefits of receiving qualified prospects instead of starting from scratch are obvious. It is certainly easier — especially if you are new to the profession — to be handed screened and qualified leads. On the other hand, there is no better way to really learn about your prospects, and what it takes to sell to them, then to do some cold prospecting yourself!

However, when it comes to sales leads, take the time to honestly assess how difficult it will be for a new sales reps to acquire leads, and get their pipeline going. Please be realistic. No one is going to work for free, or stick around very long, if they are frustrated or disappointed with their results. If you know that account development is time consuming and challenging, give your new sales reps the tools and/or compensation to develop accounts in a realistic timeframe.

Lead generation is certainly one area where novice reps are at a disadvantage over experienced professionals who have a PDA full of contacts. Most often, the inexperienced are starting “from scratch” and need extra help and training on acquiring leads and becoming successful sales professionals.

Mentoring

All new sales reps, regardless of their experience level, can benefit from being paired up with a more tenured sales rep during the initial four-to-eight weeks of employment. They can learn the ropes, participate on calls, presentations and meetings.

Novice sales reps must also be closely managed and supervised. If they are doing telephone work, their calls should be monitored, and they should receive feedback and training to turn their weaknesses into strengths.  If they are going out into the field, they should be accompanied by a sales manager or someone who can provide constructive feedback on their performance.

Next Steps

Yes, it may seem like training is a large, challenging investment – but it is essential for everyone’s success!  The more involved and hands-on a company is with a sales rep’s success, the greater the chance that he or she will succeed. In the long run, the time and money spent on training will minimize the turnover rate, and strengthen a company’s overall sales ability.

1 Comment »

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  1. I really think you have missed on: You need to train management. I’ve seen to many cases where the Sales Guy is trying his best. He wants to win. He hasn’t been given what he needs by Management.

    Have you ever taken your doc to Obedience School? If so then you know that it’s not about training the dog. It’s about training the owner to give the dog what it needs.

    Same thing in sales.


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