The sales team of any business should be seen as its front-line force: after all, it’s the principal tool in achieving the primary goal of acquiring more customers. With that in mind, sales training should be seen as an investment in the growth of the company, rather than an expense.
The overall aim of a sales training programme should be to provide the sales team with the tools they need to achieve their goal of increased business. Broken down, these tools can be viewed as follows:
• Expert customer relations skills
• Advanced selling skills
• Enhanced communication techniques
• Comprehensive product knowledge
In the pursuit of equipping the sales team with these tools, it is essential to have a system in place to measure the effectiveness of existing sales training programmes, and to identify the current abilities and knowledge of individual members of the sales team.
In addition to training that focuses on the individual, it is necessary to ensure that sales goals within the department as a whole are well defined, and to identify areas in which efficiency improvements can be made. It is also a good idea to keep in mind the long-term goals of the sales training programme, whether these are customer retention, breaking into new markets or anything else. These goals should be attainable without being too slack, and should be measurable.
Objectives of a sales training programme
When planning and implementing a sales training programme it is helpful to keep in mind the overall objectives that are being pursued. These will clearly vary somewhat depending on the exact nature of the business, but can be broadly described thus:
• Increased productivity and profits
• Enhanced customer loyalty
• Decreased staff turnover
• Self-managed staff
In order to ensure that these objectives are achieved effectively, and that sales training is linked coherently to sales goals, it is a good idea to appoint a dedicated sales manager who is responsible for the programme.
Phases of effective training
The overall programme of sales training can be divided into four basic phases: Hands-on demonstration, in which the sales process is demonstrated by an experienced sales person; application, in which the trainee is supervised while practising these skills; coaching, in order to hone sales technique performance; and finally, a continuing and ongoing process to ensure that these sales skills are sharpened and practised constantly.
In addition to training in sales techniques, it is also important to provide the necessary motivation for individuals in the sales team to continuously better themselves and work to both the business’s goals and their own personal goals. Financial rewards, such as performance related bonuses, are one way of motivating people, but often, encouraging sales staff to meet their own personal goals and targets can be just as effective.
Finally, it is the role of the sales team manager to determine who is excelling in their job and who is lagging behind. While ensuring that those who do well are appreciated and rewarded, it is equally important to identify ‘marginal performers’ and to either try to turn them around or replace them. Failure to do either can undermine the efforts and morale of the sales team as a whole.