Over the last decade we have used sales simulations with a significant number of B2B companies across a wide variety of industries. The programs have consistently received extremely high evaluations. The programs get high marks from both the participants and from senior sales management.
Because a significant amount of money is spent on sales training each year and getting it right is increasingly important, we thought a review of sales simulations would be useful. Let’s take a look at what it takes to design an effective sales simulation and then explore some of the potential payoffs.
Sales Simulations – What does it take to design a good one? First, it is important to establish some background. When we discuss sales simulations we are talking about classroom programs versus computer simulations. The programs are either one or two days in length. In order to design a good one, the following considerations are important:
- Design. The simulation must be custom-designed for your sales reps and the specific sales challenges they face. Off-the-shelf simulations with a few customized examples will not carry the day when a sales team is engaged in a complex B2B sale.
- Learning Environment. The classroom experience must be highly interactive and engaging. This is best accomplished by reducing the lecture time to zero and maximizing practice and feedback.
- Instruction. A faculty rather than a single trainer should instruct the sales simulation. The best combination is a senior instructor plus experienced sales managers who can play the buyer roles, introduce best practices, and provide expert feedback.
Sales Simulations – What are some of the potential payoffs? Given that sales simulations are a high-impact design and assuming they are custom-developed for each client, the potential payoffs and associated priorities can be fine-tuned for each implementation. A short list is:
- Skill Development. The major outcome of every training program is skill development. In the sales simulations used with our clients, two skill areas have been emphasized – account strategy and call execution. In complex B2B sales the ability to formulate and modify an effective account strategy and the ability to plan and execute sales calls are indeed the core skills for success.
- Special Sales Challenges. In some companies the sales team is faced with specific challenges that the sales simulation can be customized to address. Examples would include: selling to senior management, positioning a new product, or moving from selling an individual product to selling an integrated solution.
- Institutional Support Validation. In B2B sales everyone needs to come to the party – the sales team requires, for example, help from groups such as technical support and marketing. By observing the strategy planning and the sales calls in the sales simulations, a judgment can be made as to whether the existing support is on target. Questions can be answered like: Do the sales reps need more and better product literature? Do they have a repertoire of success stories? and Is there a shared set of messages around company history and capability?
- Team Building. In a sales simulation just completed for a major company in the oil and gas industry, the company was faced with the need to have a higher degree of coordination and teamwork between different sales groups within the company. To address this need, the participants were divided into teams comprised of members of the various groups. During the two-day sales simulation each team had to work together develop a strategy and make sales calls to leverage their combined capabilities to win the business.
- Training Needs Assessment. Because the faculty is comprised of sales managers and the participants spend all their time strategizing and making sales calls, the sales simulation provides an excellent opportunity to determine what additional training makes sense for the sales team. As an aside this is a quicker, less expensive, and more accurate approach for doing needs assessment than the classic survey method. It should be pointed out that whereas the sales simulation can be used to do a team level assessment; it is inappropriate to use it to assess individual sales reps. This of course would be true for any type of training.
- Sales Coaching. Sales manager coaching is a key ingredient of any long-term effort to develop a sales team. Because the sales simulations use front-line managers as faculty and they are responsible for coaching both strategy and sales calls, simulations are an excellent opportunity for the sales managers to perfect their coaching skills.
Blue ribbons should not be awarded casually. However we have found sales simulations to be a powerful and successful training methodology time and time again – so this is a case where we feel the designation is totally appropriate.
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