Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Do you need sales training?

I’m not sure what I expected when I left the relative security of a salaried position for a sales job that paid a commission. I had an idea that the life was not really the one Arthur Miller depicted in Death of a Salesman, but I did not know if it would be better, or worse. I was going to sell financial services. I read a few books about sales. Harvey Mackay’s Swim With the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive helped, as did the concepts in Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People. It was a strange new world for me. I wondered about taking some sort of training class, but any doubts that I had were quickly dispelled by my new boss who informed me that he would teach me everything I needed to know.

I set out to make my fortune. Under the tutelage of my boss and a few other sales people that pitied the new recruit, I began a new career in sales. I had no idea what I was doing. I learned great bits of wisdom such as, “If they aren’t saying no, they are saying yes.” I struggled to accept that every “no” got me one step closer to “yes.” I discovered the value of being a persistent, professional pest, and as much as I like to talk, I recognized the power of silence as a negotiating tool. My boss taught me to “up sell” and to direct prospects to products with higher commissions. I picked up the so called secrets of selling fairly easily and quickly. I was on my way to being a salesman. How could I go wrong? My boss would teach me everything I needed to know.

Unfortunately, I was not on my way to being a successful salesman. My boss was a fine man. He was thoughtful and kind. He did a good job of organizing the sales territory. He knew the customer base and the product, and he seemed a “natural” salesman. He was patiently encouraging. He learned his craft over many years, and he had many teachers. Unfortunately, as with many people who do something well, he had no idea why he was successful. (This happens in other fields also. Great athletes do not always make great coaches.) The reason this was unfortunate, is that there was no way that he could teach me everything I needed to know.

Ultimately, I did manage to learn to be a good salesman. I learned how to consult with clients and understand their needs so that I could provide a solution instead of simply pushing a product. I learned how to provide value to the customer. I learned the importance of developing long-term relationships so that I could continue providing solutions and customer value through repeat business. It took me three years, and I ultimately changed jobs. That was when I learned the value of sales training.

My first experience with sales training came about six months into the new job. A major shakeup of senior management resulted in a new CEO and some reorganization. The new CEO decided to hold a company-wide meeting. One day of the meeting was set aside for sales training. This was the first formal sales training experience for much of the sales team, and all of us were skeptical. I had finally become an excellent sales person after three years of on the job training, and I was certain that there was nothing new for me to learn. This sentiment was shared by many of the high performers. Fortunately we kept an open mind. We learned a lot, and as a result of that experience my perspective on sales changed.

No matter your experience or your sales teams’ ability, sales training can help. Like any skill, sales can be taught. The quality of instruction will make a big difference in how well or how quickly sales can learned. Good training and practice can help novice salespeople learn the basics. The same training helps experienced and successful salespeople by confirming that they are doing the right things and helping them make adjustments if necessary. Sales training can help build a common vocabulary for your sales team and it helps standardize processes. Common vocabulary and procedures make it possible for teams to function smoothly. Sales training also helps support the idea that selling is an activity that can be studied and practiced. Training helps reinforce the importance of planning, and it serves as an important reminder to pay attention to detail.

There are many different types of training programs. Whether you are an experienced salesperson or just learning the ropes, training may be able to improve your sales skills. Give it a try.


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