Sales training excellence – it’s both the dance and the dancer

Sales Training

Sales Training

Today a sales force must not only be able to sell a company’s competitive advantage – they must be good enough to be a competitive advantage. They must communicate value by “how they sell” as well as by “what they sell.” 

This shift requires a sales force that can perform at a different level. Today, “okay” is not good enough. In today’s market a sales person has to be twice as good as in the past just to stay even.  There are numerous consequences to this increased requirement for competency – one of which is a higher set of expectations for sales training.

So, what can be done to meet this sales training expectation?  First, it is important to get the framing right.  It is a matter of having a “great dance and a great dancer.”  First, you need state-of-the-art sales training curricula.  Programs that are based on solid instructional designs that maximize practice and feedback and that address the best practices needed to win today.

But that is only half the story – that’s a great dance.  The other half of the story is the dancer.  You absolutely, positively must have great facilitators to instruct the program.  Not even the very best sales training programs will be great if the need for great facilitation is not recognized and addressed.  The good news: great facilitators are not just the chosen few – like most disciplines, excellence can be achieved with good ideas and hard work.

So, when you watch a great facilitator delivering a sales training program what are they doing? What differentiates good performance from great performance?  A couple of ideas worth highlighting are:

Facilitate vs. Lecture.  Great facilitators recognize and practice the notion that effective instruction is not so much about teaching people, as it is about helping them learn. This is not a play on words; these two statements say very different things.  This is why the very best sales training instructors ask more than tell. This is a particularly critical point when sales people are the audience because a similar best practice exists in selling.  In successful calls the sales person asks more questions and the buyer talks more than the seller.

So, top performing instructors are really good at asking questions to engage the class. They: 

  • Plan the questions ahead of time – at least half off-the-cuff questions don’t work.
  • Use predominantly open-ended questions so a creative dialogue can be generated.
  • Ask second-order follow-up questions that help reinforce good ideas generated by the class.
  • Make sure to avoid “got you questions” that put individual participants on the spot.

Plan and Use Stories.  One of the most effective techniques for crystallizing the practical implications of a learning point is to use the power of the case example.  A well-crafted story of a case example told in a manner that the participants can relate to is one of the most powerful dialogue techniques for bring the conceptual to life.  This is particularly true if one is teaching a class of new hires.

A good way to create such stories is to decide the key learning points that deserve emphasis and then talk with some experienced sales reps to get related stories.  By going to sales reps you are guaranteeing the stories are relevant and up-to-date.  Usually you have to “shape” the narrative for classroom purposes – the story needs to be short and laser-focused on the learning point.

Work Hard.  This discussion was framed around the “the dance and the dancer”.  One additional thing that top performing dancers do is to rigorously study the choreography.  Top performing facilitators execute that same rigor when it comes to planning and preparing for a program.

On a correlated point, most top instructors can relate a story where in real time they added or deleted some topic or exercise to a program and the results were positive.  They can also relate a like number of cases where that did not work so well.  They recognize there is no need to have a batting average of 500.

Top performers do a good job in documenting where a program needs to be changed and encourage pausing and updating the materials systematically so that consistency can be maintained.

Check out the Sales Training Connection to read other posts on sales effectiveness.

©2011 Sales Horizons™, LLC

About Richard Ruff

For more than 30 years Dr. Richard Ruff and Dr. Janet Spirer - the founders of Sales Horizons - have worked with the Fortune 1000 - such as UPS, Canon USA, Smith & Nephew, Boston Scientific, Owens & Minor, Textron - to design and develop sales training programs. During his career Dick has authored numerous articles related to sales effectiveness and co-authored "Managing Major Sales", a book about sales management, "Parlez-Vous Business" which helps sales people integrate the language of business into the sales process, and "Getting Partnering Right" – a research based work on the best practices for forming strategic selling alliances. Dr. Ruff received his Ph.D. in Organizational Psychology from the University of Tennessee and a B.S. from Rennsselaer Polytechnic Institute.
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2 Responses to Sales training excellence – it’s both the dance and the dancer

  1. mary lennon says:

    These points are right on. In my experience, it is difficult to get effective facilitators for sales training programs. Salespeople, even the good ones who value instruction and practice, don’t invest in planning for the training classes. Planning makes all the difference with these workshops. The questions need to be planned so the group has a dialogue that is on point of learning. Also, the stories must be scripted and kept focused so they provide a lesson worth learning.

  2. Richard Ruff says:

    Thanks for the input – as to the point about getting great instructors – that is so true.
    One common mistake in that regard is to end up using really good sales people as insructors – they know what top performance looks like but they tend not to be really great instructors. They usually don’t follow the curriculum because it does take time they don’t have to learn it.

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