With things in constant flex, as is the reality of the digital age, making training stick is a challenge for most enterprises. More so for sales people who are used to selling what the company has rather than what the customers want. The question for most companies is how to get the training rupee to deliver maximum for the sales force.
Every basic training programme should give the sales reps all or several of the following: Information on the company, information on the products, information on the customer and the competition, training on making effective sales presentations, and information on field procedures and responsibilities. What special training needs are there for sales people to sell high technology products? This is crucial for companies in the industrial marketing area. As the market for high technology changes, salespeople are being asked to sell new products aggressively – but they don’t understand how these products work to solve a customer problem.
Your sales force may be competent selling your existing traditional products. The reps are comfortable with them; they know how the products work, how to handle every conceivable objection, and how to solve most implementation problems. That is, assuming you have given proper basic training to your sales force. But marketing new, hi-tech products is a different ballgame. Your reps are afraid that the customers won’t like the new product, or that they’ll raise objections the reps can’t answer. They are uncomfortable with the new products because they are leaving their comfort zones for uncharted waters. Some sales people are willing to enter those waters. These top performers will be successful, but to make your sales goals, you have to get the middle level performers up to speed on the new products. That’s where product-sales training comes in. It is a hybrid of product training (what it is, how it works, etc) and sales training (qualifying prospects, presenting benefits, etc).
This training typically has two goals: excite and motivate the sales force, and educate and equip the sales force to sell the product. There are a few steps to follow:
1. No quick fix solutions please! Do not make your product experts stand up in front of a class of sales people and drone through countless power point slides. That is quick, but it does not fix anything. A leading appliance manufacturer at the time they launched their version of the new air conditioner, conducted branch-level seminars to familiarise the dealers and sales officers with the product. Unfortunately, it was a quick-fix programme. Remember the story of the man who asked the watchmaker what time it was? Your sales reps want to know what time it is, not how to make the watch. They need to know how to sell the product, not how to make it.
2. Address the audience requirements before training. What level of technical competence and sales skills do they exhibit? What are their qualifications? What level do they need to achieve to become successful?
3. Develop overall objectives. Do you want your sales people to find leads, qualify prospects, sell, configure, close, and install the product? Or do you just want them to qualify prospects and turn them over to technical specialists?
4. Design the right mix of lecture, power point, video or exercises. Classroom training is relatively inexpensive to create, but it can be expensive to implement with a large number of participants. A better way is to separate the knowledge portion of the training from the skills portion.
The knowledge part could be done through self-paced training using workbooks, computer-based training, videotapes, audiotapes, or other types of multimedia. Highly competent participants can test out of the basic levels and move to advanced levels. At the end of the self-paced training, participants can take a test to certify that they are ready for the skills portion, which can be included in a tightly focused classroom session.
5. Develop course structure, agenda, content and materials. This should cover all the areas required.
6. Develop a project plan to ensure that the training project has access to the right resources, is completed on time, and meets overall course objectives. Resources management support and access to product experts and successful field sales reps are included.
7. Develop a follow-up plan. Training should not be just an event but a process. Send course updates to graduates. Consider audiotapes to help them stay competent.Once these are done fairly well, your sales reps would be more equipped to sell hi-tech products and sell more of that.
(The author spearheads execution and innovation for clients @CustomerLab)