7 Tips You Need to Know to Train Sales Professionals
Few individuals are naturally gifted in their profession. Geniuses exist, such as investor Warren Buffet, computer wizard Bill Gates and physicist Stephen Hawking, that each have found their “calling” to achieve profound success. The rest of us must work hard, practice, and have a lot of patience and endurance. Interestingly, one seldom hears of a “genius” salesperson, yet superstar sales professionals clearly exist. The reason is simple. You need to train sales professionals to achieve superstar performance – this is a skill few are naturally born with.
To that end, if you want to be part of an all-star sales team, or to manage a team of sales superstars, then time, effort and resources must be invested in training activities to learn the craft and continuously improve upon it. This practice must be vigorously adhered to with a discipline of process improvement that never ends.
The Sales Cycle
The first step to train sales professionals is to recognize that any sales process can be broken down into a series of steps. Each must be completed to move on to the next level – kind of like a video game. Each step requires a different set of skills to keep the process moving forward. Recognizing your typical deal cycle is the first step to building your program to train sales professionals.
Here are five steps that categorize most sales cycles:
- Generate interest (this may be done entirely or in part by the marketing team)
- Assess needs to determine if the solution you are selling can add value by beginning a dialog; if not, then time to pass; if so, then this is a worthy opportunity to pursue and become a “Lead”
- Qualify your prospect (Do they have budget? Are you speaking to the right person who can make the decision? Who else is involved? Is there an executive sponsor?)
- Beat the competition – be it by features, value, prices, etc. – to overcome all objections
- Close the deal
Successful sales professionals have learned how to master each of the above five steps, as applicable to their position or industry. As new hurdles or challenges are experienced, great sales professionals overcome them.
Some strategies include creating a sense of urgency, clear articulation of the value proposition or having the stubborn quality of not taking “no” for an answer. Whatever the right “mix” of work flows, communications and sales strategies, the goal of sales management is to first identify these traits, and then formalize them as part of a training. The role of the sales person is to listen, replicate and provide feedback on how to improve.
According to a Training Magazine Industry report, in 2015, the total U.S. training cost—including payroll and spending on external products and services—grew by ~14 percent to $71 billion. Spending on outside products and services grew by 29 percent to ~$8 billion, while other training expenditures (i.e., travel, facilities, equipment) more than doubled to ~$29 billion. That is a total of ~$108 billion! Meanwhile, in-house training payrolls plummeted 20 percent to ~$34 billion (source).
Companies are paying to conduct training. But, this task is increasingly being outsourced or is being done online to cut costs. In this type of environment, any application or systems that can be implemented that can help streamline the process or improve training efficiency will be well received.
In the world of manufacturing, virtual reality is gaining considerable traction – especially in training situations where safety is of paramount concern. It is one thing to simulate a refinery fire and how to put it out. It is quite another to learn through practice!
Tools to Train Sales Professionals that Improve Efficiency and Learning
Without leads, there will be no sales. So, the first area where systems (and being trained how to use them) comes into play is the collection and distribution of leads. This is a huge market, estimated to be worth $8 billion in 2017 (source). Leading providers include Marketo, Oracle and HubSpot.
In my humble opinion, the best way to improve sales productivity with regards to this type of marketing activity is to just have someone else do it. What I have repeatedly seen is that it requires a different mentality and skill set to conduct marketing campaigns that drive leads.
You really want the sales team to focus all their time on the other parts of the sales cycles, and just provide the right leads for them to work on to optimize the sales cycle. I doubt many sales professionals will argue with me on this point. Qualifying sales prospects to determine where to spend your time is critical for resource allocation and achieving quota targets. Spending too much time chasing a longshot, “whale” deal is a risky move best only pursued carefully.
With regards to training tools to be better at applying the right filter, there really isn’t one simple approach to master this skill. It combines the ability to read people, really understand who can achieve the greatest value for your product or service, and knowing what decision criteria are needed to ultimately close the deal.
Intelligence Gathering through Story Telling
When training sales professionals in sales skills, the best route to success is to share stories and how challenges were overcome. What was the purchase process for last month’s top three sales? What responses to questions were different or worked best?
Engaging in this type of dialog during regularly scheduled sales meetings is a great way to keep training “top of mind” on what is going on with the market, and what has changed. Any tips that can be shared will help your team, and ultimately the company to achieve success.
It is also important to understand if sales people area putting in the time necessary to expect results. All the advice in the world doesn’t matter if sales reps aren’t implementing it. Time management or tracking software can help play a role to improve accuracy on how time has been spent.
Too often a sales manager will hear of all the challenges a team member faced, leading to the deal slipping away too late to help them close it. Software that reveals how much time is spent on the phone, writing emails or meeting with prospects takes the guessing game out of who is doing the work – and who is faking it, hoping for a free ride for a couple years, and can help managers save deals before they’re lost.
Automated tracking software is not unique to training sales professionals. Barclays recently installed devices that track how often bankers are at their desks. Known as OccupEye, these devices use heat and motion sensors to record how long employees are spending at their posts to understand how time has been spent, and how many tellers are needed to deliver appropriate customer service for their clients. Barclays and Lloyds have confirmed that using such devices helps them to reduce costs, as reported in this article: Barclays Puts in Sensors to See Which Bankers Are at Their Desks.
It is critical to stay current on what the competition is offering, what specials are available and what makes you different are all critical knowledge you need to understand, and needs to be current.
In many industries, new customers often come because of a user leaving the competition to join you. Some process will be needed to provide updates on when a new competitor enters the market, or when an existing competitor changes their offer. This activity requires doing research, speaking with partners and even hiring analysts or consultants to provide a deeper dive into what competitive offerings are now available.
Closing the Deal
The last step of the sales cycle is most important – all the effort invested to identify a lead, qualify it and demonstrate how your product beats the competition is wasted if you can’t close the deal. There is no one right time, process or technique to closing a deal. But, it must be in your mindset to keep focused on what the next step is to overcome all objections.
One of my favorite movie quotes is: “ABC. "A", always. "B", be. "C", closing. ALWAYS BE CLOSING,” from the movie Glengarry Glen Ross, a classic cult-status movie on sales. Every opportunity of interacting with your prospect is theoretically a time to be closing.
This concept needs to be applied to training as well. Think “ABT” instead, or Always Be Training. Anytime the team is together, be it on a call, at a meeting or on the road with others is an opportunity to be sharing stories, exploring best practices and seeking how to improve your craft.
Once again, data can be a fantastic enabler to learn better what sequence of events leads to greater success in closing a deal. Software now exists that can help automate this data collection process, which can then be used to train sales professions on what best practices are really working – and which ones at are not – not ones that worked 10 years ago that no one dared to challenge.
A theme has hopefully emerged by now – the best way to train sales professionals is to engage in conversations around best practices on a regular basis.
Don’t be afraid to challenge the status quo if you think you have a better approach. Test it and measure with real data. The truth is out there. You need to have the right mentality to stay focused and strive for new process improvement strategies. Automate data collection wherever possible to save resources and improve accuracy. Track data consistently across your organization to avoid location or other biases that could distort your findings.
In summary, here are 7 tips to train sales professionals:
- Tip #1: Focus sales training on the sales cycle
- Tip #2: Expect to pay some money for training – it is a $100B industry; invest in ways to automate this process and scale to cover your entire team
- Tip #3: Leave lead generation to the marketing department
- Tip #4: Gather lead nurturing and prospect qualifying intelligence from storytelling, to then share best practices on a regular basis
- Tip #5: Leverage time tracking software to remove the guess work on how time was spent and what activities were complete prior to each sale; automate this process to improve accuracy and simplify the process to collect accurate data that can then be shared for learning
- Tip #6: Spend time staying current on the competition, and then share this information on a regular basis
- Tip #7: Always be closing – take this concept to also mean “Always be training”