As a business owner or sales manager, the first thing that we need to realize is that we are in the business of hiring and training salespeople for the rest of our business lives. Just when you think you have a permanent staff that is fully trained, something will happen. Salespeople will leave, get promoted, forget their past training, or the industry will change. Customer buying habits will change and in all likelihood, the merchandise will change. Everything is always changing. Therefore our training efforts must never stop.
As a sales manager, you must provide training for your sales staff in four distinct areas. You have a responsibility to your people to provide them with all the tools that they need in order to be successful. Remember, the most dominant reason that salespeople leave their position is that they are not, or do not feel successful. Through training, you are providing the tools that they will need in order to be successful.
The four areas are:
- Sales Techniques
- Product Knowledge
- Customer Service
Sales Techniques - Sales Techniques are the specific strategies and techniques used to complete a transaction. They are all not necessarily used in every sales presentation, but a professional salesperson must have these tools at their disposal when needed.
Product Knowledge - Product Knowledge quite simply is the salesperson’s knowledge of the product or service that they are selling and the ability to answer any question the customer may have about it.
Operational Knowledge - Operational Knowledge is the salesperson’s knowledge of how to complete the transaction from an operational point of view. This includes how to write an order, complete the financial forms, insure delivery, and in some industries, the legalities behind the transaction.
Customer Service - Customer Service is the salesperson’s knowledge of how to treat a customer in order to gain their respect and commitment to the individual salesperson. It is the salesperson’s ability to build a customer base of clients that will knowingly and willfully come back to them again and again to satisfy their needs and to recommend that particular salesperson to others. That is the difference between extremely successful and mediocre. Providing outstanding customer service happens before the sale, during the sale, and after the sale has been completed.
Whether you are training seasoned veterans or rookies the following keys to training should be in effect.
The keys to effective training are:
1. Training must be done from the beginning of employment.
The minute that a salesperson is hired the training process must begin. Start with the information that the new person needs the most in order to start the selling process, and then work up to the more fringe items. I would not allow a new person in sales until they had a basic understanding of the company’s customer service policies, sales philosophy, operations (where things are, how to write an order, etc.) and some basic product knowledge about the products or services that they are selling.
2. Your training must be consistent.
It is not fair to assume that everyone is given equal training in an organization. As the sales manager, you must be sure; everyone is given the same and equal chance to succeed. To that end, every company should have a written out training checklist for every position.
3. Your training must be done in a specific order.
In every selling organization there are numerous things that need to be learned and taught. For example, a new salesperson needs to know how to write up a sales slip before they need to know how to special order merchandise. Of all the things a new person must learn, there must be a logical sequence to the teaching curve. I suggest that you list all the things that a new person must learn in the first two weeks of employment and write it on a post-it note. Then prioritize these items into day 1, day 2, etc. How to effectively turnover a sale should be a top priority.
4. You must provide a checklist of all items in which salespeople need training.
Without a written checklist, you can never be sure that you covered the information that the new salesperson needs to know. We are all human and at times, we may think that we told someone something when in reality we didn’t. It may even happen that the new hire doesn’t remember being told; a training checklist will eliminate these training errors. In addition, your training will be consistent when using a checklist. The checklist must be a living and breathing organism that is constantly changing and evolving, just as your products and company changes.
5. Your training must be fun and not boring.
The training that you give must be fun and educational. Nobody wants to work in a boring environment. Just as in school, we studied an hour of math and then an hour of science, then an hour of history, the same needs to be true in your company. Give the new hire an hour of product knowledge and then an hour of sales techniques and so on. Keep the training interesting and fun at all times.
6. Training must be completed in phases.
Just as the training must be done in a specific order, training should also be done in phases. For example, when teaching the cash register the new hire needs to know how to write a sales slip and make change right away. The next phase of training may encompass reconciling the register. The third phase may include pulling sales reports from the register. Teach people in phases and include a reward.
7. The trainee must understand the philosophy behind the information that is taught.
Once the salesperson understands the importance of, and/or the justification behind the information being taught, the likelihood of compliance is greatly enhanced. In other words, when you explain in detail that add-on sales represent a major portion of the total profit picture and that the individual salesperson can substantially increase their personal income through selling add-ons, then the likelihood of the salesperson following through is greatly increased. When you simply tell someone to sell add-on items, they may not be as prone to sell them.
8. The trainee must complete written understanding of what is taught.
The only way for a sales manager to be sure that the trainee comprehends the information being taught is by having the trainee complete a written examination. Having a salesperson write an essay or complete a brief multiple choice, fill in the blank or short essay test will verify the trainee’s level of understanding and comprehension of the spoken or written training.
9. The trainee must role-play his/her understanding of what is taught.
Once you have done the training and had the trainee complete a form of written testing on the information the next step is to have the trainee role-play the scenario being taught. Only through role-playing can you determine the level of application the trainee has in the information. In addition, the trainee will gain confidence in their ability to apply the material through the role-playing process. I haven’t met many people who haven’t role-played in the past that actually enjoy the process. However, once the trainee gets involved in role-playing and sees successful results, role-playing will become a welcome part of the process. Initially role-playing should be done in short segments of the learned concept and then taken to a full role-play of a given scenario.
10. The sales manager must observe and give coaching on live demonstrations.
After the sales manager has given the training, had the trainee complete a written understanding of the training, and role-played the concepts being taught, then it is time to observe the trainee following through on the information in a live demonstration. Once the trainee has completed the process the sales manager will know with certainty that the trainee knows the information, can apply the information, and has shown they can do it in a live demonstration. Then the sales manager can be assured that they have done everything in their power to give the trainee the opportunity to succeed. Should the trainee chose not to use the information is a different issue all together.
The Five Criteria of Training Successfully
- The trainee must hear the information.
- The trainee must read the information.
- The trainee must give written comprehension of the information.
- The trainee must role-play the information taught.
- The trainee must apply the information in live sales presentations.
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