If recruiting is considered the lifeblood of an organization, then training must certainly be its pulse. Experienced salespeople are often reluctant to take time away from their busy schedules for training. As a result, over time, they frequently become less productive. It is only natural to expect commission-based salespeople to resist any activity that takes them away from their customers. Award-winning sales managers place a high premium on training and purposefully design their training programs to be timely, relevant, realistic, and reoccurring.
There is absolutely no substitute for a well-trained and highly motivated sales force! In his best-selling book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Dr. Stephen Covey makes a strong case for the fundamental importance of training, or as he calls it, “sharpening the saw.” In addition to skill development, Dr. Covey points out that time allocated for training also provides an opportunity for much needed personal reflection and renewal. Progress and growth are virtually impossible in an environment void of assessment and training.
Timing is everything. It is important to operate from a written training program and schedule training well in advance. Due to the damaging ripple effect on appointment calendars, training must be scheduled at least 30-days in advance and short-notice changes should be avoided. Planning ahead not only helps minimize scheduling conflicts, but it also provides opportunity for training preparation and promotion. Attendees are typically more receptive and inclined to participate when they have been given sufficient time to plan and prepare for the training.
For training to be perceived as relevant and beneficial by the sales force, they must be given the opportunity to contribute to topic selection. An excellent way to elicit input and establish training priorities is through the use of a self-administered, skills assessment survey. A well-designed survey will evaluate skill expertise over a wide array of categories such as administrative tasks, product knowledge, and sales proficiency. For example, it is quite common for a low producer to rate themselves high in product knowledge and low in sales-related categories. The skills assessment survey not only provides a good benchmark of an organization’s current overall training level, but it also serves to identify potential peer trainers as well. With the appropriate person, peer training can be extremely effective and therefore should be encouraged.
Realism is Key
As they say in the military, train like you plan to fight! Obviously, the more realistic and thought-provoking the training, the greater its impact. Build value into your training sessions by finding ways to inject realism. For example, if you are role-playing phone scripts, it’s preferable to separate the participants and conduct the training over the phone vs. across the table. Due to the lack of visual cues, this approach closely mimics the real experience. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then videotaping a role-play session speaks volumes. Videotaped training sessions don’t lie and therefore, provide an excellent opportunity for self-critique. A videotape provides meticulous feedback on body language and sales techniques that otherwise may go unnoticed.
Designing a successful training program is limited only by your creativity. With a little effort and imagination, you can develop a world-class training program that will excite your sales team and keep them coming back for more!