How Effective Are Your Company’s Sales Training Programs?

Today’s economy is forcing companies to think out of the box and implement new, creative, high impact sales strategies to keep their company on the leading edge of the industry. Annual sales training programs are often ineffective at keeping your sales force up-to-date on the latest products, pricing and, of course, your target market. The most productive and profitable companies provide sales training on a regular basis to ensure their teams are constantly learning and improving their skills as the sales environment continues to evolve.

A professional sales coaching company can help you develop and implement sales training programs that are targeted to your team’s individual and group needs and goals. Consider some of the following coaching and training tips to boost the ongoing performance of your sales force.

Your sales force needs to be motivated to be successful, but motivation itself only goes so far. After all, even the most motivated sales team member can have disappointing sales numbers. In addition to motivating, it’s important to have a sales training program that is laser-focused on the step-by-step actions necessary to take your sales to the next level. Your business coach can make a huge impact by integrating your coaching and sales training into a powerful program to produce maximum, measurable results on a consistent basis.

Targeted, Specific Training
Generic training content can be found anywhere, but it doesn’t always apply to your company’s products or your sales force members’ developmental needs. Instead, you should implement training programs that are tailored to your sales team members, your products/services, and yourself. As the sales manager, you are the driving force behind your team so your team’s effectiveness relies on your ability to lead.

Create an Action-Oriented Plan
Sales team members are naturally driven toward action. Sales training programs that use positive action and help your team meet daily-not just annual-goals produces a better reaction. As the sales manager, it is your job to be proactive and hands-on so you can provide motivation by showcasing your own action. Show a sense of urgency to your sales force, keep up a fast and positive tempo, and have a compulsion to close each sale.

Implementing a Coaching Infrastructure
Although its’ important to have a sales training program in place, you also need a supportive coaching structure for long-term sales training benefits. Remember that coaching must be an active, ongoing activity-not a temporary event. A coach should be on-call to help sales force members as well as managers achieve their short- and long-term goals, ensuring team effectiveness and cohesiveness and creating new processes based on the actions of the team.

Sales training programs and coaching go hand-in-hand. By implementing these strategies on an active, frequent basis you can improve the confidence and selling power of your sales force. Remember that there is no one-size-fits-all program. You should strive to develop an industry-specific, targeted training program that addresses your team’s strengths and weaknesses head-on as well as the sales obstacles that must be overcome to achieve sales success. In addition, sales training should be held more than once a year. While every quarter is helpful, the market and your customers change much faster. Instead, consider adding a sales training session monthly to create a more productive, energetic, high-performing sales team.

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How to Pay Less and Get More Results For Your Sales Training

When earnings fall, most companies do the one thing that is easy to implement, and will make the earnings look better. That is to cut costs and budgets. And one of the first, if not the first, to be cut is the training budget.

However, rather than deciding to cut or postpone all kinds of trainings, some companies are trying to retain the “must-have” trainings, i.e. the ones that are critical to the company’s performance, such as sales, supply chain management, quality management etc. Still, the budgets available for such training are still very tight, and these companies are looking into ways of dong more with less.

Some companies have tried to use internal trainers instead of external ones to conduct sales training. Others have switched to less “expensive” trainers instead. Well, the question here isn’t so much about whom to engage as your sales trainer, but rather how you can plan and execute sales trainings that deliver your desired results.

To achieve this, you will have to first overcome some of the common weaknesses of most sales training initiatives:

* Sales training content is outdated OR does not match the current buying practices of customers
* Ineffective reinforcement or post-training coaching
* No measurement of improvements after the training
* Getting the wrong person to do the training, etc

Getting Your House in Order

While the purpose of sales training is to improve the selling skills so that they generate better sales results for you, to achieve such an objective may require the orchestration of a few other components as well. These are:

* Hiring: Do you have the right sales person for the right sales job that will fit into your corporate culture
* Promotion: Have you promoted the right sales person to be your sales manager whom will lead and motivate your sales team effectively
* Incentives: Is your sales team incentivised to go the extra mile and get better deals for you.

If you need someone to get new customers and get quick deals, it will be very painful to train someone who is more comfortable cultivating long-term relationships with customers and grow their business. Similarly, if you need someone to spend more time partnering with customers and create strategic sales, it will also be quite masochistic to train a sales person who is highly skilled in high-pressure selling. Here are some statistics from HR Chally:

* Only 19% of effective new business developers are effective at maintaining long-term customers
* Less than 15% of key account managers are comfortable developing new businesses
* Nearly 65% of salespeople who fail could have succeeded in the right type of sales position for their skills

According to HR Chally, less than 15% of superstar sales people succeed in management. The job of selling is very different from managing a team of sales people. Some superstar sales people are so good in what they do, they don’t even know why they are good, much less impart their skills to others.

Here are some of the criteria of what a good sales manager should be:

1. Directs and controls others in your team
2. Optimise the company’s profits through the actions of your sales team
3. Analyse customer behaviours, sales people’s actions and market trends effectively
4. Train your team members
5. Makes joint calls and then coach the sales person on how to deal with customers better

You may ask why is hiring the right sales person so critical to getting good sales training results. Well, according to research conducted by Huthwaite, 87% of what is learnt in a sales training session will be lost after 1 month upon completion of the training programme. And the key reason behind this is due to ineffective post-training reinforcement, coaching and monitoring by the sales managers. In fact some sales managers hardly, if ever, train or coach or nurture their teams!

Ultimately, it is said that the sales person’s mind works faster and more accurate than a super-computer when it comes to calculating their incentive payments. They know how to reach their targets and optimise their pay by taking the most efficient of all actions. What this means is what gets paid, gets done, and if you don’t provide the incentives for sales people to change their ways (or dis-incentives if they don’t), then your sales training effectiveness will be compromised.

Setting Your Training Objectives

If you were to ask any sales manager, what will be the objective of any sales training, the reply is likely to be “Get more sales (at higher prices)!”

While this is very much the ultimate objective of most, if not all, sales trainings, the question here is what areas need to be improved before you can increase sales?

Since sales revenue generated is an end-result, in order to improve this result, you will have to look into the processes that drive this results in the first place. Hence, instead on focusing on the final objective, look at which are the processes that need to be improved and work on those areas.

E.g. if you find that your sales people have a hard time dealing with customers’ pressure to cut prices, perhaps you can first:

* Identify the sales processes involved in a typical sale;
* Identify which process(es) actually caused our customers to focus so much on price discussions (e.g. did we quote the price too early, or we didn’t understand the customer’s business needs well enough, or we didn’t get the customer to buy-in to the value we provide, etc.)
* Set the training objective to be rectifying these causes of giving too much discounts
* Monitor and measure the improvements on these processes
* Then monitor and measure the improvements of selling at higher prices

Perhaps the biggest headaches faced by many sales trainers (internal or external) is that some companies decide to have sales training only when sales are really doing badly, and then they expect immediate improvements to the bottom line. Ironically, part of the reason that these companies are doing badly in sales is because they hadn’t paid enough attention to the sales processes that drive the eventual results. So it degenerates into a vicious cycle of the company wanting some “magic bullet” to improve sales, while the sales trainer tries in vain to explain it is the process improvements that will improve sales.

Engaging the Right Trainers

Typically, companies can choose between internal and external trainers for their sales training. Whether you are getting internal or external trainers, your selection criteria will have to be based on “what kind of trainer(s) will be a best fit to deliver our sales training objectives now?”, more so than any other criteria.

While it seems like common sense to select the right trainer for most training managers, there some selections that are sometimes bizarre. We know of companies who require trainers to have years of experience in their industry, when what they said they are looking is someone who can train them new ideas to meet future challenges as their industry is changing real fast.

There’s also a Fortune 500 IT hardware company in China that actually raised issues about the trainer’s accent, and then promptly fired the trainer, even though that trainer is a subject-matter expert who is real good in designing new training programmes from scratch. While it is true that the trainer has difficulty pronouncing broadcaster-standard putonghua, participants can understand him well, and have graded him highly in evaluation sheets for previous trainings.

Depending on your current situation, your sales training requirements can be:

* Designing a sales programme from the ground up (i.e. observing sales people in action, break down the sales processes, devise ways to improve each process through training)
* Implement existing training programmes (no changes, just do it)
* Emphasize role-plays and case study discussions in workshops, an then give de-briefings and pointers (sort of like a group-based coaching)
* Conduct train-the-trainer programmes for sales managers, so that they can train their own teams
* Audit current sales training programmes, and identify ways to improve on them , etc.

In fact, one of our key customers are engaging us to help them develop their their senior sales managers to double as internal sales trainers. Their challenges are

* Their sales managers don’t know how to train (and haven’t got any training experiences);
* They need external help to customise a sales training programme to their needs, and incorporating their CRM system into their sales processes;
* They need ongoing identification of new training needs based on their weaker links in their sales processes;
* They need advice on how to schedule their internal trainings so that their internal trainers are not over-burden with work;
* They need to audit their internal training, to make sure the time is well spent.

So we worked out a plan (that goes beyond the typical train-the-trainer programme) that will help them

* Reduce operational training costs (by getting internal senior managers to do the training);
* The trainees get more attention (it will be just 1 sales manager to 5 trainees);
* Their trainers are well-trained to do the job well;
* They get professionally designed training materials;
* They get updates and further coaching from the master-trainer

To choose the right trainer, you can create a score sheet of the list of proritised criteria for the trainer(s), that is based on your sales training objectives. Most companies, even those that have very structured learning methodologies, are still using gut feel when choosing trainers, and sometimes that may end up as bad, if not ridiculous, choices.

CJ is the trusted sales advisor who have helped international companies achieve quantum improvements in sales profits in China and beyond. So far, CJ has helped:

* A leading international hotel to produce the equivalent of an additional 5,000 room nights in China in the lull summer months of 2007
* A global leading architectural hardware company to increase the sales revenue of a key account in Shanghai by 10 times within 3 weeks
* The world leader in PC sales to transform their sales force to be more collaborative and solution-focused, and helping them to regain worldwide pole position from their nearest competitor.

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