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Selling Power Magazine Article
Train Your Sales Team: Performance of a Lifetime
This article is based on a conversation with Duane Sparks and Timothy D. Murray, chairman and founder, and president, respectively, of The Sales Board,
a Minneapolis-based sales training firm. Sparks is the author of several books, including Action Selling: How to sell like a professional, even if you think you are one (2004) and Selling Your Price: How to escape the race to the bargain basement (2004). They can be reached at The Sales Board Inc., 14505 21st Avenue N, Ste. 206, Minneapolis, MN 55447
Breaking sales records is the same as breaking Olympic records – there’s no easy way to get a gold medal, let alone clock in the performance of a lifetime. Breaking records requires preparation, training, reinforcement, and measurement. It means looking at virtually everything that happens in your sales process and making changes. Because if nothing changes, well…nothing changes. No records will be set.
Whether your sales team consists of successful veterans or rookies in need of help, the potential that exists in your sales team is one of your company’s greatest assets. Tapping that potential is the job of every sales manager and sales executive. So what exactly needs to be done? Here’s a seven-step process to tap that potential:
Step 1: Prepare the Organization for Change.
Humans and human organizations always suffer from inertia. It’s difficult to do something differently, especially when it’s not entirely clear that what you’re doing today is the wrong thing to do. Breaking sales records will therefore require changes in the behavior of sales reps, sales managers, and support staff.
Unfortunately, one of the most difficult challenges that managers face is changing the ingrained habits of their employees. So how can you open their minds to the need to change? The best way to do this is to assess their current ability in the five critical selling skills (see “Quick Tips for Your Next Sales Meeting”).
Step 2: Define the Records That You’re Going to Break.
All sales records are not created equal. There are tactical goals, like the number of cold calls that generate a face-to-face meeting. There are strategic goals, like the ability to penetrate highly visible reference accounts. There are financial goals, like generating more revenue than in previous years or generating more average profit per sale. If you’re going to break sales records, you’ll want to select the goals that are most likely to have a positive impact on your firm’s performance. A word of warning: whatever records you decide to break, make sure that the metric matches up to the actual activities of the sales team. Don’t pick a goal, such as “grow market share,” that’s only achievable if other companies falter.
Step 3: Train Your Team While Defining Your Best Sales Practices.
The five selling skills should be part of EVERY sales training program. Unfortunately, many sales training programs only focus on one of these elements, neglecting the others. Like the weak link in a chain, a weak skill in a critical area can make improvements in another area entirely moot. What use is it to be able to ask for a commitment if you can’t properly question to uncover the customer’s requirements? What use is questioning if you don’t use what you hear in the presentation of your solution? Even worse, some so-called sales training consists merely of a “pump-you-up” motivation speech that results in a few hours of feeling good but no lasting benefits.
In addition to training all five skills, you should identify a process to capture the best ideas that come from your training. Once documented and placed in the proper place in your sales process, these “best practices” have a chance of being implemented in the field. Your “best practices document” should be a work in progress as new ideas are shared during the reinforcement process.
Step 4: Have a Long-Term Plan for Reinforcing the New Behaviors.
Sales training is only the start. In order to break sales records, ALL of the skills being trained must be practiced on a regular basis. Unfortunately, most sales training lacks sufficient reinforcement. Trainees relapse toward old behaviors unless the new skills are reinforced. Sometimes the simple fact that the new behaviors create immediate success is sufficient reinforcement. However, breaking sales records requires reinforcement of even those skills that don’t have an immediate payback, like taking the time to plan for each customer call. In most cases it takes from four to six months of reinforcement before a new skill becomes second nature.
Without a programmed procedure for follow-up in the field, don’t waste your time and money on training. You’ll need tools such as sales meeting materials, practice exercises, and field homework in order to transfer skills into the field. Since adults learn in a variety of ways, you should have available a variety of media and training methods to suite each person’s learning style.
Step 5: Carefully Measure Learning.
In business, what gets measured gets done. In learning, what gets measured gets learned. Every sales skill that you train should have an associated metric. And you should have a standard that constitutes mastery of each skill. The very best way to deal with this is to use a validated testing instrument that can measure the amount of learning that has occurred as well as the student’s ability to apply what they have learned.
If you don’t have the ability to measure learning, you are most likely (continued on page 2)