The biggest misconception about sales training is that we can train people how to sell and that it can be done in a one-day workshop. Like most training, whether you are taking SCUBA lessons, driving lessons or golf lessons, it takes a lot of work to not only teach people a new way to think about an activity but to get them to do it “right” in the heat of the action, in the middle of the game, when they are tired, stressed and busy thinking about the big picture or thinking about the moment. There is no fool-proof series of steps that sellers could take that would always result in a closed sale with a qualified customer whenever they need one. There are no magic words. There aren’t specific questions or turnarounds or presentation “tricks” that always get customers to buy. If such magic existed, it would probably work best to train (brainwash?) the customers, not just the sellers or at least train both parties.
Part of the problem is that most sales trainers I have met don’t actually sell, no longer sell or have never sold in an economy like the present, but they buy-in to their own inflated opinions about their “training ability” or the programs they represent. They mean well and their hearts are in the right place, but they fool themselves into believing they can actually teach people how to sell. Most place great emphasis on such things as open-ended questions and some still teach “techniques” like nodding their own head to get the customer to nod theirs. Teaching how to do one thing right in a sales meeting is not sales training. For example, at some point almost every trainer teaches sellers to probe to find the need. Really? That works great when speaking to a buyer with half-a-brain: smart enough to know their real needs but too stupid to solve it without the help of an outside salesperson who was a total stranger a moment earlier.
However, as a trainer who has worked with more than 35,000 sellers and who has never stopped selling, I can tell you that selling is not about doing one thing “right” when you are on a sales call. It is about producing enough sales to reach sales goals! That is dependent on having enough people to talk to and forecasting accurately who among them are likely to buy. Training is effective when it supports seller’s attempts to keep everything in balance – from time and territory management to work habits to the sales habits, tactics and strategies around each part of the sales process from lead through renewal. Ironically, the moment we gather up our collection of habits, tactics and strategies as well as forecasting ability, etc, we also limit our potential production by these same habits. We begin to grow and develop some habits while allowing others to wither on the vine—things we know we are supposed to do (like pre-call planning) but just don’t get to do consistently. So, what is training? Training is the process of ongoing instruction that keeps us thinking about excellently executing the things we are forgetting to do. Sure, there is sharpening of skills, but mostly it’s the awareness of skills that we need to keep in the front of our brain.
Training that supports this idea has these five elements:
- Visual system (usually the CRM): Sellers need to see, in a glance, what they have now and what will likely close this month, this quarter and this year, with all data points based on objective criteria and an inspection standard shared by the entire sales organization. Nothing else matters than achieving sales goals and this view is like their personal GPS showing them how close or far they are from the real destination. The CRM is not plug-and-play – sellers must follow their own organization’s business rules to ensure consistency of use and inspection standards.
- Outside perspective: Like professional basketball players who still have coaches giving them feedback, sellers need an outsider’s perspective. Every seller believes they are right and whatever they are doing works. Until they miss the goal. The coach (sales manager) is best positioned to guide each seller’s attention to what really matters as well as reject our well-told excuses. Excuses may be legitimate but in the end they are the reasons we didn’t succeed, but not acceptable alternatives to successfully reaching our goals.
- Initial training: This part, which can be a live workshop or live/recorded webinars have a number of social and psychological benefits. For example, bringing in a sales organization for a day or two once a month, quarter or year reconnects everyone and allows them to collectively share their experiences. But, everyone’s learning style is different – some more verbal, others need individual settings while others are audio learners, etc. Regardless of individual learning styles, if we remember that we are not training people to perform a set task but rather consistently get maximum results which are constantly scaling and optimizing, we realize that even a great workshop isn’t training … at best, it may have grabbed everyone’s attention, opened up their minds to learning something new and whet their appetite about how much more there is to learn and practice.
- Ongoing reinforcement: This is where the real learning occurs. Especially when the training can be matched to each individual’s learning style. M-learning (e-learning pushed out to seller’s mobile devices) is especially ideal for this as it allows sellers to engage with the training in the right setting, at the right moment and the right way for each to learn.
- Dashboard comparing sales training delivered with closed sales delivered by that seller: Without this crucial element, sellers too quickly accept certain sales habits and reject or forget others. Sales training dashboards allow the individual seller, their coach and their trainer to use data rather than gut to decide what is really working.
Sellers should be guided by their pipeline rather than their gut feeling about what activities to focus on each minute of each day. The alternative is that the seller spends too much time working on the wrong sales. In that same way, trainers need to look at the key performance indicators (KPIs) and pipeline of the sellers they are training. Trainers may find that relying on their gut has resulted in “great” training that is lost on the wrong sellers. Truly “magical” training moves the needle on real sales KPIs.