Make sure your sales training actually works

Sales training—when done well—can transform teams into selling machines. Steve W. Martin, sales strategy professor at University of California Marshall School of Business, outlines four common errors he sees in sales training and suggests ways to avoid them.

1. Mistake: Sales training is based on assumptions about why customers buy.

Fix: You have to interview decision makers at accounts you’ve won and lost.

Martin has interviewed over 1,000 won and lost customers on behalf of clients to determine what goes on in customers’ minds when making buying decisions. He found that 75% of the time, customers made their decisions halfway through the sales process (if not before it has even begun). This means sales teams have to be in the lead at the halfway point. Martin’s point is that if you are going to train a sales team about how and why their prospective customers make buying decisions—and companies should—it has to be based on direct interviews with them.

2. Mistake: Training is based on the belief that decision makers are rational and logical.

Fix: Sales is about selling to deep-seated, emotional needs.

Sales training that focuses only on the features and benefits of the product or service being sold would work—if humans were rational. But we aren’t. Smart sales training will train sales teams how to sell to underlying psychological and egoic needs. How will this service or product help the prospective sales target? How will it help him shine in front of superiors? How will it solve a problem?

3. Mistake: Sales training is lecture-based and based on rote memorization

Fix: Include meaningful and interactive “cultural transmissions”

Lectures are boring and forgettable. Martin suggests applying a method of learning called “cultural transmission”—a behavioral technique of emulating a successful practitioner.

Martin suggests three cultural transmissions in every sales training: 1) The sharing of success stories and key wins. 2) Role playing, including everything from cold calls to elevator pitches. 3) The best sales performers should be interviewed on a panel and speak to their sales philosophy, territory strategy, how they win and why they lose, and this should be followed by an intensive Q & A.

4. Mistake: Companies segment customers only by their revenue value

Fix: Sales targets within companies should be segmented psychologically

Segmenting the company is not enough. Sales call targets must also be segmented. Before salespeople make their pitch, they would be wise to know as much about the target as possible. What is the person’s role, their orientation (technical, financial, operational, etc.), their influence in the company, and how do they process information? The idea is to create a predictive framework to anticipate customer behavior and response, as well as curate pre- and post-sales efforts specifically for the target.

Not only does implementing this four-pronged methodology in sales training make the process far less boring for its participants, it forces the entire process to be highly specific to the company and its macro environment. Which, Martin says, is critical to a successful sales program.

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