By Ken Wax
My recent article explored “10 Reasons Why Training Salespeople Is Different and What You Can Do About It” (http://trainingmag.com/article/yes-salespeople-are-different%E2%80%94and-so-training-them). It showed why the very nature of their work makes them different than most other groups.
That, however, is only half the story. Your company’s sales culture is also a crucial factor. If your training program isn’t in tune with that culture, history, and preconceived notions, it may bring polite nods but deliver little else.
Here are five aspects that can’t be overlooked:
1. Where is the center of the universe?
Some companies dominate their market, others once did. Still others have such strong self-esteem that they believe they should and act that way. If a culture of macho-bravado exists, it’s usually a problem as marketplaces change. Training is seen as unnecessary if one thinks the sun revolves around them. In fact, the very goal of the training may be to bring people out of that “We rule!” self-centered mindset.
What to do about it:It’s not enough to claim change is needed and dive in teaching. For salespeople to open the door to let new ways in, they have to first buy into the need. That is the essential first step.
The larger the group, the more impact is needed. I once was brought in by executives at a large tech company because they wanted to transform the mindset and skills at the upcoming sales meeting of their 500 salespeople. The training would take place later in the week, but because I knew attitudes are formed early, I asked to give the keynote speech on the first day. In it, I gave examples of companies who once owned the world, but now were gone. I also talked about others who’ve managed to stay on top—and what has kept them there. The message, while delivered in an upbeat way, was clear: Organizations—and people—who ignore change in their marketplace soon are replaced by those who seize those opportunities. It set the tone for the entire event and amplified management’s message are and created desire for the (very well-received) training program.
2. Past trainings = Preconceived notions
Past experiences matter. While you aren’t responsible for the past, that training influences current attitudes. If previous ones were perceived as time wasters, that is the mindset with which most salespeople will arrive. That’s a hurdle no one needs.
What to do about it:Do some well-publicized research among the salespeople beforehand. Ask several what they liked best and least from previous programs. Word soon will spread that you care about such things. Then, when you announce your program, mention how it has been created based on input from salespeople. It will be obvious that this new training is designed to be different, and probably much more valuable, than in the past.
3. What are managers’ attitudes and involvement?
Simple rule here: If the sales managers are involved, salespeople will be, too. But if management treats this like unimportant checklist item they can ignore, salespeople know this as well and act accordingly.
What to do about it:Explain the above point to sales management; they may not realize how influential they are to success. Ask them to kick it off at the very start. Even on a Web-based program, a phone call or short video has great impact. Ideally, this should be someone as high up as possible in the sales organization. Then, if you can have other sales managers involved along the way, all the better.
4. Model worship
At some companies, for many years process-methodology training was the definition of sales training. This was fashionable for a while; now it’s become clear that the boxes and arrows of a model leave the salesperson at the door—and also that each of one’s competitors have nearly identical diagrams they’re hoping the prospect will follow.
Most salespeople endured but didn’t like process training because it didn’t translate to their real-world selling and winning more often. But if that’s all your company has had, then that’s what they’re expecting this time, too.
What to do about it:Make it clear that this won’t be process training, and instead will focus on real selling situations. Ideally, do research as mentioned in No. 2, above, before announcing this. No need to disparage trainings of the past; simply make sure everyone knows how this will be different.
5. Product training vs. training in actually selling those products
At many companies (tech companies in particular), sales training historically meant product training. Marketing managers created slides about features and benefits, and also about the (alleged) weaknesses of competing products.
Eventually, it was realized that this isn’t training in selling at all—selling is about getting people to listen; it’s about creating desire and teaching one’s contacts how to further a sale internally. Listing benefits or how competitors are lacking is informing—and that’s something Websites now do. Salespeople need to know far more than that to be of value to the prospect. That’s why more and more companies now want to get beyond this old mindset—but salespeople still may expect training to be a bunch of slides with claims.
What to do about it:It depends. In many cases, you bring value to management by conveying the above insight about selling vs. informing. If your company already “gets it,” then your job is to have salespeople open their minds to this. In addition to specifics mentioned earlier in this article, you may want to point out how every one of your competitors has features and competitive claims—and you want to outsell them by honing skills that advance sales rather than merely provide information.
A company’s sales culture is invisible, yet highly influential. If it is ignored, even the best-planned training can take place but achieve marginal impact on sales numbers. Since everyone—salespeople and managers alike—wants sales training to result in sales increases, factoring in one’s company culture helps all involved—including those in charge of training.
Ken Wax is an author and keynote speaker, and teaches very-specific sales training to companies ranging from IBM to start-ups around the world. He can be reached at email@example.com; his latest book, “The Technology Salesperson’s Handbook,” is on Amazon.