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CEO Best Practice: Sales Training

Executive Tools

  • Executive Summary
  • Self Assessment Checklist

Expert Practices Articles

  • Sales Training: An Overview
  • Serving the Customer
  • The CEO as Sales Leader
  • Sales Training Programs
  • Sales Skills
  • The Sales Meeting as Training Tool
  • Turning Around "Marginal Performers"

Case Histories

  • Teach the Ten Skills of "Super" Salespeople
  • Help Your Sales Force Understand How to Sell to Aging Markets
  • Help Salespeople Understand the Changes that are Caused by Aging
  • Train Salespeople to Focus on Creating Partnerships
  • The CEO Must Know the Company, Product and Customers Inside and Out
  • Teach Salespeople to Use a Consultative Approach
  • Define the Behaviors that Lead to Success and Hire Accordingly
  • Avoid the Five Most Common Sales Training Mistakes
  • Use a Trainer that Provides Frequent Follow-Up

Tools & Analysis

  • Vistage Tips: Goal-Setting Tips for Sales and Marketing Professionals
  • Why "Sales Training" Doesn't Work
  • The Ten Accomplishments of Highly Successful Sales Leaders

Book List: Sales Training

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CEO Best Practice: Sales Training

Executive Summary

  • Sales Training: An Overview
  • Serving the Customer
  • The CEO as Sales Leader
  • Sales Training Programs
  • Sales Skills
  • The Sales Meeting as Training Tool
  • Turning Around "Marginal Performers"

Sales Training: An Overview

Are great salespeople born or made?

The issue may be debated forever, but according to Vistage sales experts Jim Bleech, Gerry Layo and Jim Pratt, without effective sales training, your company can never hope to achieve the growth needed to stay healthy in difficult times.

In the ongoing campaign to acquire customers, salespeople represent your company's front-line force. So quality sales training works best when it provides these tools:

  • Expert customer relations skills
  • Enhanced communication techniques
  • Comprehensive product knowledge
  • Advanced selling skills

Of course, it's not easy to custom-tailor every training program, especially when the sales staff is large and/or geographically dispersed. But typical training methods often suffer from inconsistent delivery of information and a lack of measurement tools to determine their effectiveness. They also suffer, Layo says, from insufficient preparation and planning.

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Serving the Customer

"Sales training should focus on teaching reps how to unearth the customers' highest value needs and educating them on opportunities they may not see for themselves," Pratt notes. "This is the kind of valuable information a company can use to modify its product offerings and deliver the specific benefits the customer really needs."

Of course, to know what the customer needs, you first have to talk to the customer. That's what Layo advises: "Train the sales force to engage your major customers in dialogue. What modifications to your existing products would better serve their needs? Are there products they'd like to have, but can't buy from you now?"

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The CEO as Sales Leader

Companies with the strongest sales teams generally have at least one element in common, according to the Vistage sales experts. In each of these organizations, the chief executive officer has made a personal commitment to sales training and sales support. These CEOs don't view sales training as an expense; they view it as an investment.

"You can manage assets, but you have to lead people," says Pratt. "In sales training, that leadership quality manifests itself in strong support at the highest level. For the CEO, this includes showing up at sales training sessions -- even occasionally participating as an instructor."

Layo adds: "You can manage a company's assets and database, but you have to lead the salesforce. It's up to the organizational leader to create and maintain a culture of success, reflected in the attitude of each and every individual hired and trained as part of the sales team. The ideal attitude is 'I can, I will,' not 'What happens if I don't?'" His formula: "Attitude plus skills plus activity equals success."

All too often, CEOs preoccupied with bottom-line issues search for ways to cut the sales and marketing budget. Instead, the Vistage experts say, they should focus on what can really help the business -- that is, helping build credibility for the sales team. "Having to establish credibility on their own, each time they hit the street, often leads to sales staff burnout and lackluster performance," Layo adds. "When work becomes drudgery, effort goes way down.

In other words, "challenge turns into misery," and CEOs are faced with high turnover, another draining expense for the organization.

Other reasons for sales staff burnout and turnover:

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Sales Training Programs

A successful training program should also incorporate expertise in many, if not all, of the following areas:

  • Company's market positioning and product line/mix
  • New product launches
  • New market penetration
  • Sales skills
  • Business management skills

"Many company training programs confuse product training with sales training," Bleech notes. "Don't make the mistake of infusing your team with product knowledge alone and then sending them out into the field. That's a waste of time, energy and money! Having the right sales skills will make all that product knowledge pay off."

"The first step in training is education," Pratt asserts. "A strong conceptual understanding of basic sales principles is the best foundation for effective training."

The next steps, according to Pratt, include:

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Sales Skills

Sometimes the sales staff has to educate the market about the product itself, Bleech notes. "In later phases -- after the market understands and is steadily using the product, sales often becomes little more than an order-taking process. Later stages of product development generally require skills that can be duplicated by technology. The problem is, if you end up selling a pure commodity, why should customers bother talking to sales reps at all? They can just as easily order the product off a Web site -- yours or your competitor's."

Layo agrees. "The salesperson's presentation depends on a knowledge of specific reasons why potential customers should buy the offering. I know a sales manager who begins his training session by asking individuals to list ten specific and objective reasons why a prospect should buy. He insists on answers with depth -- not generalities like 'our quality is better' or 'our product is superior.' The sales force has to be thoroughly knowledgeable about the company and the products it sells."

In fact, Layo adds, everyone from the CEO on down should be able to list at least five significant reasons why a customer should buy your product or do business with you.

According to Bleech, two related traits -- integrity and credibility -- are crucial to building a customer's trust.

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The Sales Meeting as Training Tool

"A sales meeting represents an excellent chance to learn by incorporating ongoing training and education," Layo says. "Here's an opportunity to practice, teach, coach and develop skills. The important thing is to plan ahead with a relevant, practical agenda."

Bleech agrees. "The overall purpose of a sales meeting is getting people pumped up to hit the ground running. Within that framework, the sales manager can use the occasion to share organizational news, communicate new initiatives, solve problems and offer encouragement."

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Turning Around "Marginal Performers"

Sometimes, despite the best interview techniques and hiring procedures, a salesperson fails to live up to expectations. In most cases -- particularly if you can discern a basic aptitude for the job beneath the problems -- it's worth taking the extra time and effort to turn around these "marginal performers."

The key, according to the Vistage sales experts, is going through the process in a measured, step-by-step fashion.

The steps include:

  • Verify the problem. Collect facts before tackling the behavior. Where are the flaws and shortcomings? What is the sales rep doing wrong? Pinpoint the gaps between what he's doing now and what you'd like him to be doing.
  • Agree that a problem exists. You won't get anywhere until the sales rep acknowledges his or her difficulties.
  • Assess the problems. Where is the selling behavior falling short? Ask the rep for his or her own assessment of the situation, then align that with your own analysis.

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