According to IDC, for the “typical” $1 billion company, poor sales enablement results in $14 million in wasted sales and marketing costs and $100 million in lost revenue. Where are they going wrong?

When we think of sales training, the first thing that usually comes to mind is a series of workshops – usually instructor-led – designed to hone performance in time management, listening and communication, handling objections, closing, and so on. So far, so good – these topics are crucial regardless of the learner’s experience level. It’s what your competitors are doing, and it’s what your employees expect.

But what about motivational training? This training can foster the kind of positive attitude that helps sales professionals deal with the ups and downs of the sales cycle and effectively develop prospects, build value and open up new business opportunities. This training is often central to the annual kick-off meeting and can be an element of monthly meetings and other training, as well.

You’ll need to offer product knowledge training, too. Most companies have a wealth of technical product information available in house and can deliver it through multiple formats, including training (e.g., workshops and webinars) as well as content (e.g., documents and videos) and whenever a sales professional needs it.

So, you’ve invested in an integrated sales enablement initiative and created a team of charismatic, enthusiastic, resilient, product-aware salespeople who are ready to flood the company with new orders. Even now, however, a fourth key element is still missing: industry knowledge.

According to Forrester research:

  • Only one in five executives says that meetings with salespeople meet his or her expectations.
  • Seventy-six percent say that sales reps don’t understand their role and responsibilities.
  • Seventy-seven percent say sales professionals can’t demonstrate how their company’s products or services can help their prospects.

Supporting these data is 2018 research by Training Industry and ValueSelling Associates that highlights ongoing gaps in the business acumen of the sales function:

  • Seventy-five percent of buyers say sales reps do not demonstrate knowledge of their industry structure.
  • Seventy-two percent of buyers report that salespeople do not demonstrate an understanding of core business roles and key organizational structures.
  • Only 37 percent of buyers say sales reps provide unique industry insights.
  • Just 34 percent of buyers see vendors as “always effective” in sales conversations with executives.

The customer’s crucial question is, “How is what you’re selling going to help my business?” That question isn’t being answered much of the time. Your sales reps’ product knowledge should go beyond its technical specifications and encompass its applications and how it can meet your customers’ needs.

Imagine that one of your technology sales reps has an initial meeting with an oil and gas company. The rep might have watched a short video about big data and an overview of upstream operations. But when she’s sitting in front of the buyer, understanding disparate concepts without knowing the broader context won’t give her the confidence and credibility she needs.

Can your rep contribute meaningfully if the conversation turns to how your products or services can help mitigate the financial impact of rising production costs, falling EROEI and the cost of complying with regulations? Do all the reps you send to oil and gas clients know that EROEI stands for energy returned on energy invested? If not, it’s a clue that your company may not be able to participate in early project definition and planning discussions, and you are destined to end up in the late-stage, price-based battle, trying to enter a configuration that someone else has designed.

To conclude, truly effective selling comes, in part, from salespeople’s:

  • Becoming fluent in the language of specific industries
  • Using at language to position their offer in the context of the real-world business problems that matter most to the executives they’re meeting with
  • Being able to anticipate the direction the discussion is headed in
  • Being able to guide the discussion toward areas where the offering has a proven record of delivering benefits