Customers want fresh ideas and creative insights for addressing a set of needs and opportunities that are both new and challenging. They expect sales reps to be knowledgeable about their industry, company, and issues at a higher level of proficiency than ever before. They expect insights not product pitches. They want trusted advisors not product facilitators.
This buyer expectation requires that the sale rep have the information and skill sets to have compelling strategic business conversations.
Performance development challenge. Developing the capacity to have strategic business conservations is a significant skill development challenge. Most sales reps will not, on their own, make the shift from conducting product-centric sales interactions to conducting strategic business discussions. There is no simple set of tips and tricks for helping reps make this transition. A behavior change integrating a set of best practices is required. With that thought in mind, the sales training initiative should be viewed as a process not a single event.
Sales training design. Although the specifics will vary depending on the unique needs of each company attempting to meet this challenge, it is possible to describe an initial training design.
- Stepping-stone approach. This approach involves a series of events each of which builds on the preceding event. Therefore, it is important to construct at least an outline of all the events before executing the first one. In addition, as much care must be given to what happens before and after each event, as to the event itself. The later point is simply the recognition that both how one positions a training activity and how one reinforces and builds on a training activity are keys to success.
- Front-line sales management engagement. Front-line sales managers are the pivotal job for driving sales success. It is, therefore, critical that the instructional design for each event and the pre- and post- activity actively engage the front-line sales managers. For example, although there are numerous ways to reinforce any training activity, sales management coaching is clearly the high impact strategy; therefore it should always be the first method of choice.
- Customization. In general it makes sense to customize sales training to specific markets and the sales challenges the company is facing at that moment in time, as opposed to, implementing generic programs. In the customization, attention needs to be given to the fact that, although the challenges may be the same, in many companies the sales reps are divided into operating groups that sell to different segments of the market. The key point is the sales training must be perceived as relevant and realistic – which means you must drag the real world into the classroom.
- High-engagement level. Using a lone instructor in front of the room with a 50-slide PowerPoint deck is not a viable approach for a high-impact training event for an experienced sales team attempting to learn an advanced skill set. It is suggested that each sales training event in the stepping-stone approach must based on a design that maximizes discussion, practice, and feedback.
- Team-based. Correlated with the previous point, it is suggested that the participants be divided into teams for the sales training. Teams maximize the opportunity for discussion, practice, and feedback. Consideration should be given to the composition of teams. In many markets the day of the lone wolf sales person is coming to an end. The game is now a team sport. The sales rep may engage engineering, service or consulting personnel at various phases of the sales cycle. If you are going to sell as a team, you need to train as a team.
Last, if results are to be optimized the sales leadership needs to come to the party. Everyone from the sales leadership team needs to be committed to the idea that “behavior change requires a process not a single event.” Plus coming to the party also requires coming to the key events in the training. Attending the training provides the leadership an excellent opportunity to diagnose the additional actions required to achieve excellence.
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